The United States of America is not the same for everyone. For some transgender students, their options for higher education are limited by the anti-trans laws and policies that have been enacted or proposed in many states across the country.
Carolyn Hays, a mother of a transgender daughter, wrote a personal essay for Salon.com about how her daughter’s college hunt is very different from her older siblings’. She realized that they could only consider colleges in 18 states and Washington, D.C., where her daughter would be sufficiently protected by law and feel safe to exist.
“We were in Ohio. I’d forgotten that my youngest daughter’s hunt for the perfect college would be very different. I added, ‘Well, I mean, when we’re visiting states where you’re allowed to exist,'” Hays wrote.
She described how her daughter’s America has become apocalyptic, with safe states scattered and broken up by vast stretches of hostility. She also shared some of the challenges and fears that her daughter and other trans youth have to endure, such as being denied medical care, being arrested for using the bathroom, being bullied and harassed, and being excluded from sports and other activities.
Hays is not alone in her concern. According to a map by the Movement Advancement Project, a think tank that tracks LGBTQ-related laws and policies, only 15 states and D.C. have a high overall policy tally that scores the laws and policies that shape LGBTQ people’s lives and equality. The rest of the states have either medium, fair, low or negative policy tallies, reflecting the lack of protection or the presence of discrimination against LGBTQ people, especially transgender people.
There is a coordinated national campaign by conservative/right-wing politicians and organizations to target transgender rights, with over 490 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in 2023, most of them anti-trans. These bills aim to restrict gender-affirming care and access for trans people in various areas of life, such as health care, education, sports, and public accommodations.
For example, in Florida, colleges and universities can’t spend state funds on gender-affirming care for students. The state attorney general of Missouri announced in March that their restrictions on trans health care for minors would extend to people of all ages.
These bills are opposed by many Americans who support transgender rights. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, about half of Americans (51%) say they would oppose their state passing a law that would make it illegal for health care professionals to provide someone younger than 18 with medical care for a gender transition.
The Supreme Court of the United States has only once ruled directly on transgender rights, in 2020, holding that Title VII protections against sex discrimination in employment extend to transgender employees. The Equality Act, if passed, would prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity in various areas of life, such as employment, housing, education, and health care.
Hays calls for more awareness and compassion for the trans community and urges people to vote for leaders who will uphold their rights and dignity.
“My daughter deserves better than this,” she wrote. “All our children do.”
-For my transgender daughter, there are only 18 States of America, Salon.com, June 10, 2023
-Map: Where gender-affirming care is being targeted in the US, ABC News, May 22, 2023
-How Americans view states’ trans and gender identity policy proposals and where such policies exist, Pew Research Center, September 15, 2022