Conservative lawmakers across the United States have in recent years advanced hundreds of bills targeting the rights of LGBTQ individuals, including more than 480 new anti-LGBTQ bills during the 2023 legislative session alone. In dozens of states, conservative leaders have enacted restrictions on gender-affirming medical care, pushed to allow discrimination for religious reasons, and advanced other measures designed to marginalize LGBTQ people.
American Oversight is investigating these attacks on LGBTQ rights, filing dozens of public records requests for communications, directives, and other documents that could shed more light on the actors involved. In several states, we have requested the release of any communications that may exist between officials who have pushed anti-LGBTQ measures and prominent organizations known to spread homophobic and transphobic rhetoric.
Legal experts have raised concerns that the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade could signal its willingness to reconsider other cases that relied on the right to privacy, which the court found inherent in the 14th Amendment, to enshrine certain civil rights, such as Lawrence v. Texas, which protected the right to same-sex intimacy, and Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage.
American Oversight has filed public records requests with the offices of attorneys general in several states seeking the release of any communications or guidance regarding individual privacy rights that were shared during the months surrounding the overturning of Roe, including in Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Florida, and Texas.
In Texas, we also requested Attorney General Ken Paxton’s communications with groups known to promote anti-LGBTQ measures, as well as records related to his 2022 instruction for employees at the Texas Department of Public Safety to compile a list of all residents who had changed the gender on their driver’s license in the prior two years.
Several new anti-LGBTQ laws and bills target the rights of young transgender and gender non-conforming people, such as bans on the discussion of gender identity in schools and limits on transgender athletes’ participation in sports. As of May 2023, 19 states have banned the provision of gender-affirming care for minors, with proposals existing to do so in several other states.
In Arizona, which banned gender-affirming health care for minors in March 2022, we submitted public records requests seeking any communications between the office of former Gov. Doug Ducey and anti-LGBTQ groups since January 2021. We also sent requests to the office of state Sen. Warren Petersen, who had been an early supporter of the ban.
In early 2022, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott directed the state to investigate the provision of gender-affirming care for transgender youth as child abuse. American Oversight filed public records requests seeking the release of any communications between Abbott’s office and anti-LGBTQ groups in the months leading up to Abbott’s announcement of the directive.
Emails we obtained from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services show that leadership instructed staff not to communicate in writing about Abbott’s directive, that staff were forbidden from sharing their opinions of the policy on social media, and that lower-level employees were not authorized to handle such cases. Additionally — as we detailed in amicus briefs filed in support of lawsuits challenging the new rule — the records showed that DFPS adopted new procedures in response to the directive and that staff and other affected entities interpreted the changes as a new rule under state law, contrary to arguments advanced by Abbott’s office and DFPS.
In Mississippi in February 2023, Gov. Tate Reeves signed into law HB 1125, which bars transgender minors in the state from accessing gender-affirming health care and bans any public funding from institutions that provide such care to minors. American Oversight sent public records requests to the offices of Reeves and state Sen. Joey Fillingane, the bill’s sponsor, seeking communications with prominent anti-LGBTQ groups, as well as any reports or analyses related to gender-affirming care. We also requested communications between several anti-LGBTQ organizations and the offices of state Rep. Gene Newman, the bill’s principal author, and state Rep. Nick Bain.
We filed several requests seeking public records from the Florida Department of Health and the office of Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has repeatedly targeted LGBTQ rights and in 2023 signed bills that banned gender-affirming care for minors, restricted the discussion of personal pronouns, and placed new restrictions on drag show promoters and venues. He also signed a bill that would make it a misdemeanor trespassing offense for an individual to use a bathroom not aligned with their gender assigned at birth.
Several states have also considered or passed legislation to restrict discussions of LGBTQ-related topics like gender identity in schools.
In Florida, DeSantis enacted and later extended the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which banned instruction about sexual and gender identities and restricted conversations about personal pronouns in public schools. American Oversight has requested any communications between the governor’s office and anti-LGBTQ groups, including the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Family Research Council, the Manhattan Institute, and others. We also requested any communications related to proposed book bans targeting LGBTQ literature in school libraries and classrooms.
We have also requested any communications between DeSantis’ office and Disney, which in 2022 spoke out against the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and was swiftly punished by DeSantis, who revoked the company’s special self-governing status and created a new oversight board of its tax district, composed of five hand-appointed members — including a former pastor who in 2022 claimed that tap water could turn people gay.
In Virginia, where Gov. Glenn Youngkin has also pushed anti-LGBTQ measures, we are seeking the release of communications Youngkin or members of his office may have had with groups and organizations known to target LGBTQ rights in education. In 2022, American Oversight filed suit to force the release of records related to the Youngkin’s tip line for reporting the teaching of “inherently divisive concepts.”
American Oversight will continue to track these attacks on LGBTQ rights. Read more about our work surrounding conservative attacks on education and self-expression here.