At a press briefing Thursday, just two weeks after South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem signed the first anti-trans bill of 2022 into law, a reporter asked why she thought 90 percent of LGBTQ+ youth in South Dakota are diagnosed with anxiety or depression.
Without even feigned introspection or urgency, Noem replied: “I don’t know. That makes me sad, and we should figure it out.”
Comforting, no? As the national discourse rages on as to whether or not trans athletes—like trans swimmer Lia Thomas—should be allowed to compete, South Dakota swiftly made the decision for any trans youth within its state lines, effectively banning trans youth from playing on school sports teams consistent with their gender identity.
Unfortunately, it’s just one of at least seven states that have introduced legislation to limit the rights of trans and non-binary people since the start of 2022 alone. Republican lawmakers in Arizona, Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma, New Hampshire, and Ohio are all currently seeking to further bills that would prohibit participation in sports, gender-affirming healthcare, or certain bathroom use for trans and non-binary people.
The Human Rights Campaign long predicted that 2021 would see an onslaught of anti-LGBTQ+ bills—more than 250, to be exact—and many would inevitably carry over or inspire new legislature in 2022. Of the more than 30 states to introduce restrictions specifically on trans athletes last year, nine enacted the legislation into law, according to the HRC.
As many states—the most recent being Indiana, with a bill similar to South Dakota’s—proceed with hearings and make efforts to move the legislation forward, it should come as no surprise that trans and non-binary teens are, as the reporter aptly pointed out to Noem, suffering mentally and emotionally.
Last month, the Hill released a report detailing the effects such recent anti-LGBTQ+ policy efforts have had on young people, and the results are disturbing, to say the least. More than two-thirds of LGBTQ+ youth say their mental health has been impacted, according to a poll featured in the report, with doctors saying patients are recently plagued by depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. The Hill found that more than 85 percent of transgender and non-binary youth in particular said that “their mental health has taken a hit.”
In a separate report from the Trevor Project published last year, crisis lines were shown to have experienced surges in calls from young people living in Texas—a state which considered over 50 bills targeting trans kids in 2021. From January through August, for example, Equality Texas received nearly 4,000 crisis calls from trans and non-binary Texan youth. If measured against the same time period in 2020, that marks an 150 percent increase.
Advocates for trans and non-binary youth like Chase Strangio, an attorney with the ACLU, have recently warned that public outcry against attacks on LGBTQ+ youth has waned since 2020, due in part to the pandemic and more coordinated efforts from national groups that draft this kind of hateful legislation to send to conservative lawmakers across the country. “What we have is a situation where our opponents are fixated on us and our allies are leaving us behind,” said Strangio.
One of the main opponents? The Alliance Defending Freedom, otherwise known as the group whose current CEO played a hand in one of the lawsuits attempting to overturn the 2020 election. The Alliance is behind anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in multiple states, including a recently failed bill—also in South Dakota—that would’ve limited access to bathrooms for trans and non-binary students.
The timing couldn’t be worse.
When more and more young people are publicly identifying as trans and non-binary amidst a growing amount of legislation that will not only limit their lives, but surely endanger them too, to echo Noem: We should figure this out. And soon.