State of Affairs

Erin Reed Talks Anti-Trans Legislation, 2024, & Fighting Back

· Updated on October 4, 2023

With record numbers of anti-trans bills working their way through legislatures across the United States in the past few years, it can be overwhelming to keep up. What started with bills designed to keep trans people out of public restrooms has escalated beyond control. Now, we’re facing legislation that seeks to erase trans people’s presence and very existence through “Don’t Say Gay” bills, sports bans, and bans on gender-affirming care. It’s easy to feel as though the right-wing strategy is built around throwing out so many of these bills that we simply become fatigued trying to fight them.

Fortunately, one independent journalist is managing to consistently track the vast majority of anti-trans and LGBTQ+ bills and their presence in legislative sessions. If knowing the enemy is half the battle, her work is invaluable in this fight. We spoke to Erin Reed (aka @ErinInTheMorning) to discuss her work, how concerned we should be about existing while trans in the United States, what 2024 might look like, and what we can do to fight back against this tsunami of anti-trans rhetoric being pushed by politicians and media networks.

How would you define the work that you’re doing in your own words?

I consider myself an independent journalist that covers all of the legislation and cultural issues that move around gender-affirming care, transgender issues, and LGBTQ+ issues, primarily in the United States. Although I do some worldwide reporting, I mainly focus on the laws and how they progress through the United States. I’ve developed a bit of a specialty in reporting on these laws, primarily from watching hundreds of hours of legislation, as well as speaking to on-the-ground activists in every state. I’ve had contacts with many legislators and gotten to know how these laws are put together, how they are developed, how they are passed in a way that I think very few people have had that chance to focus on.

What called you to this work, and how does your background help with what you do?

So, I have a little bit of a media background. For about five years, I was the digital director of a progressive news organization, the American Independent, but I didn’t do very much reporting there, I was mainly looking at data and analyses.

What drew me into this work is that I transitioned about five years ago, and I created my first resource for the community. It was a map of gender-affirming care clinics in the United States at the time, and it has since has grown International. I was basically mapping all of the places in which transgender people could get gender-affirming care through the informed consent process, which is a method for obtaining gender-affirming care that is not as harsh as some of the other methods for obtaining care, it’s a little bit easier to do. After doing that, I ended up getting a large number of contacts in every state, because people would tell me, “Hey, you missed the clinic here, let me give you some more information.” Or “Hey, can I talk to you about opening a new clinic.” So I kind of became a healthcare advocate for a while, in the first year of my transition.

Following that, in 2020, we started seeing these extreme laws targeting the trans community. And I very quickly pivoted to covering those laws, because they targeted the clinics that I was mapping out, because I had friendships with many of the people in these states. And in doing so it kind of just all snowballed because I had already sort of gained a following over my health care coverage and from reporting on where clinics were, so people turned to me whenever these laws were getting initially proposed. And I did not know very much about them whenever they were initially getting proposed, I didn’t have that legislative research, legal background. But I developed it really quickly. I spent a lot of time reading the laws, I spoke to people at all of the leading trans rights organizations about these anti-trans laws, and they helped me to get up to speed. And ever since then, often I’m the only one covering a lot of these hearings live while they’re happening, while they’re determining whether or not they’ll ban gender-affirming care.

You keep up with all of these legislative sessions and read through all of these bills, and a lot of that stuff is pretty depressing or distressing—how do you keep yourself going through all of that?

I mean, for one, a lot of coffee. But secondarily, it is hard. It’s distressing. And being trans myself, I worry whenever I see a slew of laws targeting people like me. I have friends in these states. I have family in these states. And it’s distressing, to say the least. I do try to practice forms of self-care that are very important. And I’ve got a wonderful fiancée that I can talk to whenever things get rough, and she can talk to me as well. I’ve got a wonderful very-soon-to-be-eight-year-old kid that I can take out to the playground and spend time with.

Likewise, one of the things that makes it easier for me is that as hard as the as the low points get, and as difficult as covering this stuff is, the messages that I get from trans people who my work has helped and the messages that I get from trans people who look to me for support and for guidance—that helps. It helps me contextualize that I’m not doing this work for nothing and there are people that gain value from it, and that it does help. I know, for instance, my maps that I make, both the health care map as well as the risk maps that tell you what the likelihood of your state passing anti-trans laws is going to be, I know that both of those have helped people to make healthcare decisions, as well as potentially even save lives. I’ve been told that directly. And that makes me feel like this work is important. And that helps me keep going.

Is there anything else about you and the context of your work that you think people should know?

The first four years of this, the first four years of my transition, and therefore my activism as well, were done while I was working a full-time job and being a single mom. It’s hard to get this work out to do it. And it still is hard, but starting in October of last year, I stepped away from my full-time job to do this full-time because I knew 2023 would be a very difficult year for trans laws. And it was, and I’m glad that I stepped out of my role to do it. It was scary because I did not know if I would be able to support myself after leaving my job.

Thankfully, my newsletter has been able to give me enough support to do this full-time. And I tried to make this accessible in as many ways as possible, be it my newsletter, be it my TikTok page. I try to cover all of the biggest news events on TikTok in one-minute-long, digestible videos for people. I try to make sure that I am reaching out to people wherever they are. And you know, there are different people that you will find on Twitter, and that you can reach with a Twitter thread than you can with a video on TikTok, than you can with a full news article on Substack. My goal is simple. It’s to get as much information out there as possible. Because again, there are so few trans journalists that are covering these issues. They exist, and they need to be given more airtime by our media organizations. But until that happens, my role feels important. And I feel good in doing the work that I do.

@erininthemorn

Fifth grade teacher in Atlanta fired for reading a book that “considers gender something other than binary” #trans #transgender #lgbtq #transrights

♬ original sound – ErinInTheMorning

So, to dive into the distressing elements we mentioned before. We’ve been seeing an awful lot of legislation targeting schools, with a particular focus on trans youth through bathroom bills, sports bans, and restrictions around education about marginalized groups with a particular focus on the LGBTQ+ community.

But we’ve also been seeing a lot of pushback on those bills, from local activism, organizations on the ground fighting legislation, and school districts refusing to follow new rules. As you’re down in the legislative trenches, how bad would you say things are with those balances: is the pushback enough, or should we be even more concerned about this than we might already be?

Yeah, there were school districts that pushed back in Virginia in particular, and that was good, and it’s good to see pushback everywhere. I think that resistance will depend on people not following unjust laws, like we have many more times in the past. Civil disobedience is something that we have a long history of, especially in the LGBTQ+ community. I mean, the whole reason why we have Pride in and of itself is because of civil disobedience against unjust laws. So that has to be a component. I think that it must be a component, our civil rights are on the line.

I worry whenever I see a slew of laws targeting people like me. I have friends in these states. I have family in these states. And it’s distressing, to say the least.

Erin Reed

That being said, there is still in several states in the United States, a movement to protect transgender people. Often people ask me, “things are getting really bad is this just all getting worse?” It’s not. I mean, it is in many places. But in many places like we are actually seeing advancements on our rights. So, for instance, just this year we saw Maine and Maryland pass bills protecting gender-affirming care. As well, last year Hawaii passed bills that mandate coverage for all gender-affirming care procedures, like facial hair removal and voice therapy. These are things that trans people often need that aren’t covered by insurance. We also have seen 14 states pass sanctuary state laws for trans people that are fleeing these anti-trans states that say, “if you get to our borders from these criminalizing states, we will not convict you, we will not extradite you back to your home state, we will take care of you.” And so these are some very important first steps. We’ve also seen some places enshrined protections into their state laws or state constitution. We just saw Michigan pass the Equality Act, we just saw Nevada enshrine gender identity as a protection in their constitution.

So it’s really important to note that, like, there is a positive progressive movement for trans people in this country. And the reactionary movement against trans people is only successful right now, in places with Republican supermajorities. Now, mind you, there are a lot of places with the Republican super majorities, and that makes it hard for people like me to travel through the United States in some ways. I mean, right now, Florida, for instance, would arrest me if I went to a woman’s restroom, and somebody tried to force me out. And so, these are things that, you know, it’s right to be concerned about these bills, and we do need to fight more and more, and we cannot let go of the people who are stuck in these red states. But it’s also important to recognize that there is a fight, a global fight, going on pushing back against these unjust laws. And that needs to continue.

You referred to the movement against trans people as being reactionary. Do you think that this is just a backlash against a positive progression in trans acceptance in society that might die down in the long term, much as we saw with other landmark LGBTQ+ rights issues in the past? Or do you think this is going to be a new norm that we’ll be fighting for the next decade?

Kind of both, and here’s why I’m saying that. So, we look back in the history of the United States and we seem to see this pop up every 20 years or so. Going all the way back to eugenics, to World War II, to the 1950s and 60s and anti-drag laws that led to Stonewall, to the 1980s AIDS epidemic HIV epidemic where trans people and LGBTQ+ people were having to demand that we were worth saving, and that we were worth researching medical cures for HIV and AIDS. In the late 1990s, early 2000s, we have the massive constitutional marriage amendment issue where 33 states banned gay marriage, and many of those states still have anti-gay-marriage laws on the books. Thankfully, that is blocked by the Supreme Court. And then 20 years later, now we’re in another era of this where LGBTQ+ people are the boogeyman, again. That seems to happen. This is a thread that has run through American history, as well as global history. So given that, we do tend, looking back, to see steps forward after these reactionary movements.

That said, I do think it is reactionary, and I think that in recent years, and the recent decade or so, trans people have felt more free to come out now than ever. You can especially see this being the case for transgender youth, as well as trans millennials and Gen Zers. And among this population, you know, we tend to have very open attitudes towards gender identity and sexuality. And I think that part of that openness is what this backlash is against. I don’t think for instance, that this is a popular public uprising, I don’t meet very many people in public who really truly view trans issues as the salient issue of our time. And in fact, this is supported by polling. Fox News did a poll that showed that only 1% of people identified trans issues as a major priority issue. Another polling outlet, Data For Progress, found a very similar result.

So, it’s not like there’s this massive clamoring for pushes against trans rights, but we are seeing our conservative party, the Republican Party, essentially focus like 50% of all of their legislative effort on passing anti-trans laws. You turn on Fox News, and chances are you’re going to see an anti-trans clip within 10 minutes, and so I think that there’s a big disconnect right now between what the public is wanting and what the politicians are doing. And I think that’s why it’s accurate to paint this as a backlash because it’s not like this is a public uprising against trans people. Instead, it feels like a reactionary movement toward a public acceptance of trans people.

With the politicians focusing so much on driving this reactionary charge, it seems reasonable to expect it to get worse going into 2024 as we get closer to the next presidential election. It’s clear that candidates such as DeSantis and Trump are going to use this as a big part of their campaigning. Do you think this is something where we’re going to see more and more legislative moves as we get closer to that election to back that rhetoric up, or is it mostly going to be hot air during the debates?

I think that the 2024 legislative cycle is going to be even worse than the 2023 one. And I’m sad to report that but having watched this for a long time, I’m expecting many of the states that passed “Don’t Say Gay” bills, to pass worse bills and expecting more bathroom bans and expecting more laws that define trans people completely out of US Code and define that sex is biological assigned at birth, and therefore, you should have like, your biological assigned at birth sex on your driver’s license. There are all kinds of laws that they can usher in several of these states.

And there are also laws that failed this year that we could see passed next year. And you know, we’ll see what happens. It feels like every year, the extreme ones this year become the ones that they actually pass next year. So, for instance, this year we saw adult gender-affirming care bans fail in most places, with the exception of Florida, where Florida currently is restricting a large amount of adult care. But we might see many states pass bans going up to 21 or 26 years old. This is what the anti-trans organizations are pushing right now, as well as increased bathroom bans more. And so, I think that it’s going to be a hard year in 2024.

However, I do have a suspicion that so much focus on anti-trans politics is going to hurt the Republican Party. And we’ve got so much evidence of this. We saw what happened when they tried to make Lea Thomas and Riley Gaines a major issue in Georgia. Herschel Walker brought anti-trans swimmer, Riley Gaines to sit up with him in an ad, and he lost the campaign. The same thing in Arizona where the Republican candidate for governor there attacked the Democratic candidate for governor over her husband being a therapist for a trans kid. And that didn’t do any favors. The Democrat won there. We saw the Democratic Supreme Court Justice candidate in Wisconsin win despite $2 million in ads trying to say that she would support sex change surgeries for minors. We saw this happen in Michigan, where the Michigan GOP chair blamed the millions of dollars that they spent on anti-trans ads instead of on economic bread-and-butter issues in the state. And now Michigan has a Democratic trifecta. There are dozens more examples I could cite, and I’m not going to belabor the point. But I don’t think that this issue is like a winning electoral issue. But until they lose heavily on this, I think that they’re going to keep going. And 2024 looks to be hard. But I’m hopeful that 2024 might be the worst of it. And I mean, I’ve got to have that hope otherwise, if we do get a Republican presidency, god forbid, in 2024. I do see worse laws being passed, perhaps at a national level, we could see national bans, and there are many ways that a president could perhaps make that happen.

@erininthemorn

Now they are saying trans women have a biological advantage in… chess!? #trans #transgender #lgbtq #transrights

♬ original sound – ErinInTheMorning

It’s obviously a bit early to really predict, but do you think that these attempts from the politicians to use trans and LGBTQ+ issues as such a major part of their platform is going to have a significant effect on their standing in the 2024 election cycle?

The only thing I will say is that we are kind of seeing a little bit of that right now. We’re seeing DeSantis, who has made anti-LGBTQ+ issues the centerpiece of his campaign, release these massive super anti-LGBTQ+ video ads that have backfired on him heavily. And as of right now, like in the first Republican primary in New Hampshire, he’s now behind Chris Christie. DeSantis was everybody’s favorite big, dark horse candidate, because he was focused so heavily on these anti-LGBTQ+ views, and it’s not really materializing. It’s not seeming to help them very much.

Don’t get me wrong, like Donald Trump is no friend to trans people, Donald Trump is going to do equally as many bad things to trans people as DeSantis will. But perhaps his focus is a little bit more understated compared to DeSantis. And, so we’re seeing the very first hints that like making this the centerpiece of your campaign is not a winning issue. And unfortunately, for Republicans, fortunately, potentially, for people who are seeking to protect transgender rights in many of these states, this is their capstone issue. This is what they spent the most time on. In Nebraska, for instance, we saw that they were willing to let the legislature stay closed down for upwards of four months because they didn’t want to shelve in a gender-affirming care ban, and they underwent the filibuster for four months. And so, this is going to be the only thing that many people can stand on, is this drag bans, bathroom bans, etc.

With the stuff that you’re working on, are we seeing any sort of new strategies arise that you’ve seen? We’ve had legislation around religious freedom, bathrooms, sports, drag, gender-affirming care, DEI—is there a new target that we might start seeing in the near future?

Less a new target and more of a new method. We are seeing an application of national funding packages now that I’m particularly worried about. You know, everybody knows about government shutdowns, the United States has gone through a number of them at this point. And so, what’s happening right now is that there are pieces of “must-pass” funding legislation. They’ve got to pass bills that fund HSS, they’ve got to pass bills that fund the military, they’ve got to pass bills that fund the government at large. And in these bills, Republicans in the House of Representatives are including amendments that state no federal dollars can go towards promoting gender-affirming care, or can go towards gender-affirming care. There’s one that would defund children’s hospitals, if they provide gender-affirming care. And like, these bills have to pass so Republicans are going to have to take that out of the bill. But if they don’t, and we’re at a standstill, we could see government shutdowns, literally over trans issues. It also remains to be seen what Democrats are willing to compromise over? And are they going to be willing to compromise on trans issues in order to keep the government open? This is a big red warning sign to me, like I’ve got this little flashing red warning sign. And I think that this is perhaps the biggest threat towards the national trans community, because these bills could bar insurance coverage for all trans care in the United States, they could even bar private insurance coverage. And so well, we’ll see what happens.

So, with all that depressing stuff, what can the average person do? I know there are some obvious action items, they can and they should sign up to your newsletter and stay informed. And if they’re able to, they should vote, and that’s something we hear a lot. But is there anything else that anyone and everyone can do in this process to be making a difference and fighting back against all of this?

Absolutely. Yeah, stay involved and stay up to date with the news. But what you can do, and I think the most important thing you can do besides voting, besides staying involved in keeping aware, is to kind of look towards history and use that as a guide.

In the past, the LGBTQ+ community has overcome these eras of discrimination, through focusing on local activism, through getting together with your local organizations. And you know, this isn’t just like some pithy phrase. This is something that’s really important to mention, because in many places right now, the trans people who are fleeing their home states are coming into our communities, and we need to support them. They are looking for jobs, they’re looking for income, they’re looking for housing, I see it right now in my local Facebook groups, people fleeing from Texas saying, “Hey, I just came here, I’ve got a trans kid. What can I do to make sure they’re safe?” And so ensuring that your local communities are open, ensuring that the laws that are being passed to protect them are reaching the people at need.

But also if you’re in a place that is banning care, or if you’re in a place where they are targeting people, the way that we have always survived these attacks in the past is through joining together into our local organizations. Because our local orgs will know the doctors who are willing to provide care, they will know the places that you can go, they’ll potentially even have the resources to connect you to whenever you do need to move if you do find that you need to move. And likewise, they’re going to be the ones that are going to give you the very first warning on new things that are yet to come.

I think local activism is extremely important. I will say that like to add on to that a lot of this started in school boards, from the right wing. They went into school board meetings, they started passing these policies in school boards, and that made them a force to be reckoned with. We need to go into our school boards, we need to ensure that we have representation everywhere. That’s important.

So, a final question I always like to ask: when you’re not reading a million legislative bills, are you reading something right now?

Right now I’m actually not reading any book at this particular moment. Although I do have a book waiting for me to read that I might start the next week or so called Wrath Goddess Sing by Maya Deane. It’s by a transgender author, and it’s a reimagining of the Achilles tale, where Achillies is a trans woman, and it’s just a really cool reimagining. So, I’m looking forward to reading that one. And likewise, I’ve been writing a lot of non-work stuff. So I’m actually doing a lot of Dungeons & Dragons in my spare time. And so I write campaign stuff, I do all my own homebrew, and that’s what I’m kind of doing in my off time these days.♦

You can subscribe to Erin’s Substack newsletter (for free or with financial support) here. You can find Erin Reed around the internet at her website, and find all her social media links here.

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