Anti-LGBTQIA+ Bills Are Even More Harmful Than You Think

Published: JUNE 1, 2024
Already, 2024 is set to break records for state laws targeting LGBTQIA+ adults and youth, impacting healthcare, education, public spaces, and drag performances.

From the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in 1993 to the "Don't Say Gay" laws in 2023, the LGBTQIA+ community has faced relentless legislative battles to curb their freedom. Already, 2024 is set to break records for state laws targeting LGBTQIA+ adults and youth, impacting healthcare, education, public spaces, and drag performances. Anti-LGBTQIA+ bills encompass legislative measures discriminating against individuals outside heteronormative standards, affecting employment, education, healthcare, housing, and civil rights.


Meanwhile, public rhetoric around these issues has reached a fever pitch, even though anti-LGBTQIA+ bills do not reflect the majority viewpoint in the country according to the PRRI Study's findings on increasing diversity among youth and widespread support for non-discrimination.

“We are absolutely in the midst of a moral panic,” says Sarah Tomchesson, Director of Marketing at Magic Wand and Vice Chair of the Board of Directors at SIECUS, a leading sex education policy non-profit. “The political conditions in the country and globally continue to be strained with a particular rise in anti-LGBTQIA+ policies and laws. Hundreds of anti-LGBTQIA+ laws were introduced last year. While this number is outrageous, only 9-13% of them passed, which is an increase over previous years, but it also puts into perspective that the views expressed in these bills are that of a small minority.”

Recent examples of anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation include bills that aim to restrict transgender individuals' access to gender-affirming healthcare, prohibit transgender youth from participating in sports teams consistent with their gender identity, and permit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in adoption and foster care services. In some states, proposed bills seek to prohibit teachers from discussing LGBTQIA+ topics in the classroom, while others restrict access to public facilities based on assigned sex at birth rather than gender identity.


As of May 2024, the ACLU is monitoring 515 anti-LGBTQIA+ bills in the US, over 220 of which specifically target transgender and non-binary individuals. These bills seek to restrict transgender rights across various sectors like healthcare, education, employment, sports, and public facilities, effectively excluding them from participating fully in civic life.

All of these bills highlight a concerning trend of targeting LGBTQIA+ individuals through the legal system, which can have harmful consequences for their rights, well-being, and sense of belonging in society.

Anti-LGBTQIA+ laws fuel mental health crises 

Tomchesson underscores the significance of combating anti-LGBTQIA+ bills by emphasizing their detrimental impact on queer youth.


"These bills create an unsafe environment in schools, at home, and in communities across the country for queer youth," she asserts.

The hostile environments created by these anti-LGBTQIA+ bills have very tangible mental health impacts, including increased rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidality among LGBTQIA+ people, especially youth and transgender individuals.

The Trevor Project's 2024 U.S. National Survey on LGBTQ+ Youth Mental Health captures the voices of over 18,000 individuals aged 13 to 24 from across the nation. This annual tradition uncovers a sobering reality: the link between anti-LGBTQIA+ discrimination and increased suicide risk among youth.


The recent political climate has significantly impacted LGBTQIA+ youth, with 90% reporting negative effects on their well-being, and over half (53%) experiencing substantial distress. Almost 40% have considered relocating due to hostile politics.

Nearly 40% of the youth surveyed also admitted that they'd seriously contemplated suicide in the past year, and that percentage was even higher for transgender and nonbinary individuals (46%). Supportive communities and gender-affirming schools have shown promise in reducing suicide attempts. However, bullying remains pervasive, with 49% experiencing it, leading to higher suicide attempt rates.

The survey also reveals the challenges many encounter in accessing vital mental health support. Alarmingly, 50% were unable to access mental health care when needed.


A 2019 review by the What We Know Project, an initiative of Cornell’s Center for the Study of Inequality, which analyzed 11,000 titles and 1,300 studies on how discrimination affects LGBTQ+ health, affirms The Trevor Project's findings. The researchers concluded that anti-LGBTQIA+ discrimination directly contributes to higher risks of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and substance use. Even those not directly targeted suffer due to a hostile social climate, which includes constant stigma and fear of rejection.

The mental health outcomes are even worse for the 1.6 million transgender individuals in the US. Banning access to gender-affirming care (i.e., services that encompass a range of psychological, behavioral, medical, or legal interventions designed to support one’s gender identity) leads to trauma and severe mental health consequences like increased suicide attempts, distress, and depression. Transgender individuals in the US are six to nine times more likely to experience these outcomes compared to the general population.

As with other forms of discrimination, the most marginalized LGBTQIA+ folks — queer youth of color, those with disabilities, and those in lower-income communities — face the highest consequences. Sarah highlights the disproportionate effect on those at the intersections of marginalized identities, citing increased rates of bullying, violence, STIs, depression, and suicidal thoughts as direct and indirect outcomes of such legislation.


Research backs her up. A survey conducted by GLSEN found that 40% of LGBTQIA youth of color experience both homophobia and racist harassment at school, while 78% of Indigenous youth face harassment due to their sexual orientation. The combination of racist, socioeconomic, ableist, and anti-LGBTQIA+ discrimination leads to heightened levels of chronic stress, which research has found is disastrous for both physical and mental health.

Despite facing numerous challenges in 2024, including the unprecedented waves of anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation sweeping the nation, queer young people have shown remarkable resilience, strength, and unwavering optimism throughout the year.

Legislative discrimination creates further marginalization

As discriminatory anti-LGBTQIA+ laws continue to perpetuate marginalization, housing discrimination stands out as a pressing issue, lacking consistent federal protection. H.R. 4439, the Fair and Equal Housing Act, spearheaded by Representatives Brad Schneider (D-IL) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), aims to rectify this by incorporating "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" as protected categories under the Fair Housing Act. Introduced in the House in 2023, this bipartisan initiative awaits reintroduction in the Senate to ensure equitable housing rights for LGBTQIA+ individuals. 

Anti-LGBTQIA+ legislative actions are also having a significant impact in the realm of employment. Workplace discrimination against LGBTQIA+ individuals is increasing, with over half of LGBTQ+ workers experiencing or witnessing anti-LGBTQ+ comments — a 53% increase since 2019. Concerns about safety and benefits have left workers apprehensive, with 65% expressing worries about their employment prospects.

The Supreme Court's pivotal ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County (2020) significantly advanced LGBTQ+ workplace rights nationwide. However, in May 2024, eighteen Republican-led states challenged this progress by suing the Biden administration's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging that the new rules protecting transgender workers are unconstitutional.

Anti-LGBTQ laws that restrict access in public spaces, from bathrooms to doctors' offices, are perpetuating social isolation and limiting access to essential services as well.

Recently, Mississippi enacted the "Securing Areas for Females Effectively and Responsibly Act" (SAFER Act). Introduced by Republican Senator Josh Harkins, the legislation mandates single-sex facilities in public education settings, defining "sex" based on reproductive capacity "without regard to the fluidity of how someone acts or feels." The legislation prohibits transgender individuals from using facilities aligning with their gender identity in public schools, literally forcing trans kids to confront their gender dysphoria and perhaps physical violence every time they have to use a school bathroom. Governor Tate Reeves signed the law into effect immediately.

Anti-LGBTQIA+ bills contribute to the isolation and stigmatization of LGBTQIA+ individuals, especially in rural and conservative areas, by embedding discrimination into law and encouraging negative social attitudes. In areas with fewer support systems, such legislation alienates LGBTQIA+ people, increases economic hardship, and reduces their visibility. This creates environments where prejudice is normalized, significantly harming the well-being and inclusion of LGBTQIA+ individuals.

To combat this Tomchesson emphasizes the importance of creating a network of support.

“Ring theory is an approach that is effective here where the person impacted by trauma is centered with close family and loved ones creating the ring surrounding them," she explains. "Other friends, loved ones, professionals and so on make up the outer rings. Support flows inward and questions and processing goes outward. In this way, you can center your LGBTQIA+ loved one and surround them with support and love while relying on the outer rings to get your questions answered or to process the feelings or concerns you have regarding their identity.”

Anti-LGBTQIA+ bills create health inequity

The impact of anti-LGBTQIA+ policies reaches far beyond politics; it's a dire public health crisis. The 2019 review by the What We Know Project found that 95% of the studies (286 out of 300) identified a strong connection between anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination and adverse health outcomes for queer people, including higher rates of heart disease.

To add salt to the wound, anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation makes it difficult for queer folks to access healthcare. In states with no state-level protections for LGBTQIA+ people, a Trump-era rule made it completely legal for healthcare workers to deny care to queer and trans people. Luckily, the Biden administration reversed this rule in 2024, offering stronger protections for LGBTQ+ Americans. However, state-level bans on gender-affirming care still prevent trans people from accessing life-saving treatment.

Erasure of LGBTQIA+ culture

The impacts of anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation aren't limited to physical and mental health either. In 2021 and 2022, the American Library Association (ALA) witnessed a surge in book-banning attempts, with over 30% targeting LGBTQ-themed titles. Preliminary data from the first eight months of 2023 shows that this trend has worsened, with LGBTQ titles comprising over 47% of challenges.

Opponents argue that removing these stories from shelves deprives readers of vital LGBTQ representation and history, impacting readers of all ages. 

Resilience in the Face of Adversity

Looking back at the mishandling of the AIDS epidemic by the Reagan administration, Tomchesson, emphasizes the profound impact of legislative decisions on the LGBTQIA+ community. Despite governmental neglect, the queer community united, demonstrating resilience by raising funds independently for AIDS research. Tomchesson highlights this as a reminder of the importance of solidarity and advocacy within the queer community during crises.

Tomchesson emphasizes the importance of systemic advocacy: "Making your voice heard in your community, whether at school board meetings or within your own family, is essential. These anti-LGBTQIA laws represent the views of the minority. By actively supporting LGBTQIA+ youth, we can ensure these bills continue to fail. A message that can be effective is to remind people that becoming LGBTQ-inclusive benefits us all. Preparing kids (and ourselves) for the increasingly diverse world that they live in is good for all of us."

Ryn Pfeuffer

Ryn Pfeuffer is a versatile print and digital writer specializing in sex, lifestyle, and relationship topics. She got her start in the mid-90s at the Philadelphia Weekly, managing a 10-page section of the newspaper and more than 500 lonely hearts.Her professional stock skyrocketed when she started writing a saucy (and pre-Carrie-Bradshaw-era) dating advice column called “Ask Me Anything.” She appeared regularly on local radio stations and late-night TV as an expert on everything from grooming...

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