Bathroom bills, fairness, compassion, and protection acts are all part of a broken cis-tem trying to erase trans and nonbinary youth 

Do you remember 2017, when 15 states introduced legislation that proposed blatant discriminatory policies against transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people, making it illegal to use a restroom not in alignment with the sex they were assigned at birth? North Carolina passed the legislation, effectively criminalizing the visibility of transgender people in their state, and ushering in years of legal battles that would eventually deal with the bathroom issue, but not the civil protection issue. And here we are, four years later, and the visibility of transgender people is again threatened, this time under the guise of “fairness,” “compassion,” and “protection” acts taken up with state legislatures. Let us be clear. Transgender rights matter. Transgender visibility matters. 

A Record Number of Bills—What Does This Mean? 

A record number of bills targeting transgender people have been introduced in state legislatures across the country. One has already passed. The Mississippi Fairness Act would ban transgender girls and women from competing on girls’ and women’s sports teams in schools and universities. The bill, as it was introduced to Mississippi State legislatures, “celebrates” the “inherent differences” between men and women, equates high school athletics with Olympic competition, and states that legal action can be brought against those who violate the bill when it goes into effect July 1, 2021. Make no mistake, this “fairness” act is an effort to erase the visibility of transgender youth.    

The language in the Idaho and Montana measures is strikingly similar—and interchangeable with wording found in proposed sports bans in Mississippi, Louisiana, Arizona, Kansas, and elsewhere. Unlike the bathroom bills of the previous decade, these new bills are likely to pass in meaningful numbers. They center on sports, women’s sports, which seem to evoke a preoccupation with fairness and protection—thus the naming of the bills. What’s overlooked is that the question of whether transgender girls and women have an inherent advantage over their cis competitors has already been answered: they don’t. Trans, nonbinary, and intersex girls and women have been competing (or allowed to compete should they qualify) in women’s sports for years without disparity, and arguments centering on hormones and innate physiology don’t stand up to scientific scrutiny. Nevermind that for children’s sports, the focus should be on teamwork and cooperation, not difference and exclusion. Lawmakers have been sold on the flawed premise that transgender rights and cisgender women’s rights are incompatible. The rhetoric contained in these bills is dangerous. It is harmful. It will lead to higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide for transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming youth. 

Mental Health and Transgender Visibility 

According to a recent Gallup poll, 1.8% of Generation Z (those born 1997-2002) reported identifying as transgender in 2020—the highest percentage of any age group. These data affirm that more young people are claiming their visibility at an earlier age. This is a big deal, and we must do more to support young people. There is no way to keep someone from being trans, there are only ways to harm people who are trans. These bills target a young population, forcing trans kids to stop living their truth, denying their right to exist visibly, and endangering them if they do. These bills tacitly condone peer policing and violence. They protect no one. They are fair to no one. They show no compassion. 

In research released this year from Hopelab, Common Sense, and the California Healthcare Foundation, we learned that many U.S. LGBTQ+ youth (ages 14-22) face serious and disproportionate mental health challenges. Sixty-five percent of LGBTQ+ youth report symptoms of moderate to severe depression, twice the percentage of their non-LGBTQ+ peers (31%), and 19% of LGBTQ+ youth surveyed are at risk of problematic substance use, compared with 8% of non-LGBTQ+ youth.


Many LGBTQ+ kids, especially transgender youth, are suffering—more likely to feel anxious, depressed, and suicidal—because of the stress and pain they feel from a society that questions their existence and often refuses to protect them. Even more damaging is when their own support networks, family, religious communities, teachers, and political leaders promote the very ideas that make them feel ashamed, erased, scared, and uncomfortable embracing their identity. The same national survey reported about 1 in 4 young people say they “often” (23%) encounter homophobic comments on social media and more than 40% of LGBTQ+ youth “often” encounter homophobic posts online. 

At Hopelab, we are currently building a tool to support LGBTQ+ teens’ explorations of gender, identity, and the many intersecting experiences that shape their mental health and well-being. This project we call milk is designed for Gen Z youth. We are taking special care to include the perspectives of trans, gender nonconforming, and genderqueer teens, researchers, and creators within our work. If you are a young person (or want to share this information with a young person in your life) interested in providing feedback on our early prototypes, sign up here.  

Resources to Protect Visibility 

Right now, transgender and nonbinary youth are on the front lines of a war being waged to make them invisible. We must do everything we can to protect them, including rallying support for a Federal Equality Act. Passage of this bill would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to explicitly prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. We can start by raising our voices and letting our elected officials know how we want them to vote. The Hopelab team has compiled a list of other organizations that support the well-being of transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming youth.

Check these out below. If you have more to add, send us an email!  

Call or write your senators 

Ask them to pass the Federal Equality Act 

If you live in a state attacking the rights of trans kids 

Take action and let your legislators know you oppose these bills 

Know Our Place 

A public awareness campaign promoting trans resilience 

The GenderCool Project 

A storytelling campaign to share stories of transgender and gender expansive youth 

The Black Youth Project 

A collection of news stories focused on black transgender youth 

Project Pink and Black 

An organization supporting and liberating trans youth through the abolishment of carceral systems

Human Rights Campaign Resources for Parents 

Understanding the basics — transgender children & youth 

How to They/Them (a book by Stuart Getty) 

A Visual Guide to Nonbinary Pronouns and the World of Gender Fluidity 


Nationwide LGBTQ+ community center directory 

Q Chat Space 

A community for LGBTQ+ teens


An organization creating affirming learning environments for LGBTQ youth

Trevor Project 

A national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ+ youth 

Trans Lifeline

A trans-led organization connecting trans people to community, support, and resources  

Hollaback! Bystander Intervention Training 

Protect our trans community; stand up for others when you witness hate crimes and harassment 


Thanks to my colleagues Fred Dillon, Joshua Lavra, Maria Santana, Kady Barnfield, and Lissa Moran for contributing to this article.

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