Perspectives on Parity

LGBTQ+ Legislators Leading the Fight for the Rights of Trans Americans

While Republican legislators wage a war on transgender and LGBTQ+ Americans, trans and LGBTQ+ state legislators nationwide are leading the fight against dangerous bills and passing legislation to protect the safety of trans people across the country. More than 220 bills attacking the trans community have been introduced in 2023 alone, including bans on gender affirming care for minors, requirements to misgender trans students, and bans on trans women and girls competing in sports consistent with their gender identity.

These legislative attacks on the trans community compound existing bias and hate and are dangerous—trans Americans are four times more likely to be victims of violent crimes than cis Americans and almost 50% of trans or gender nonconforming youth had seriously considered suicide in the past year.[1] Electing trans and LGBTQ+ leaders who are champions for their community is critical to protecting and expanding the rights of trans Americans.

LGBTQ+ Legislators Fight Discriminatory Bills

Bills attacking the rights of LGBTQ+ people have been introduced in 45 states this year, and more than 70 bills attacking the trans community have already been passed. In spite of this wave of dangerous legislation, LGBTQ+ and trans legislators are leading the fight against these laws.

In Texas, LGBTQ+ legislators led the fight against bills that would ban gender affirming care for minors and criminalize parents and guardians seeking crucial healthcare for their children. Texas now has a record nine LGBTQ+ legislators, making up 15% of the Democratic caucus.

Texas State Representative Jessica Gonzalez, who is lesbian, was a vocal opponent of the bill to ban gender affirming care for minors, as well as the numerous additional bills attacking the trans community that have been pushed by the Republican majority. She leveraged her personal experience as a member of the LGBTQ+ community to lobby her colleagues against the legislation. Speaking about her experience, she said,


"Over time, as you create those friendships, those bonds with people, those conversations can make a bigger impact on their decision when these hurtful bills come to their committee or come to the floor.” [2]

In Kansas, LGBTQ+ legislators Rep. Heather Meyer and Rep. Susan Ruiz led the fight against legislation to prohibit trans women and girls from competing in school sports that align with their gender identity. This is part of a larger push in 20 states that have attacked trans women and girls’ participation in sports under the guise of protecting women. Reps. Meyer and Ruiz leveraged their personal experience in their advocacy against the bill, though the state legislature was ultimately successful in overriding Democratic Governor Laura Kelly’s veto of the bill.

During the debate over the legislation, Rep. Meyer shared her story as a mother of a trans child and urged her colleagues to vote against the bill, saying,


"Every time y’all bring these bills up, you’re gonna see me, I am not going away. The rest of us aren’t either. I’m gonna stand here and I’m gonna keep fighting for our trans kids. And I don’t care if you all don’t like it or not. You’re never gonna get rid of me. Even if I lose my seat. I literally don’t care. I’ll still be here knocking on your door telling you about how our kids matter. Our trans kids matter, and they should not be bullied back into the closet by legislators of all people.”[3]


During the vote to override the veto, Rep. Heather Meyer, a bisexual woman and the mother of a trans child, stood up to reveal her shirt, which read “Protect Trans Youth.”[4]

Lawmakers Penalized by Colleagues for Speaking Out Against Anti-LBGTQ+ Legislation

When legislators speak out against discriminatory bills, in many instances they risk their own safety as well as their seat. In Montana, Rep. Zooey Zephyr was censured by the legislature and barred from speaking on the House floor for the remainder of session after she refused to apologize for saying her colleagues would have blood on their hands for banning gender affirming care for minors.

While the Montana Legislative session has since adjourned, Rep. Zephyr will not be able to speak on the floor again for the rest of her current term, which runs through December 2024.[5] Speaking about her experience in the legislature and the bias she faced, Rep. Zephyr said,


“You have people who don’t understand what it means to be trans, who don’t understand the need for this health care or the joy that comes when trans people get to live our lives. Those who may be open to it, there is a sense that they are afraid of being exiled from their party, afraid of being primaried, afraid that their legislation will go nowhere if they stand up in defense of someone like me. What we see right now, and what I hope they see, and what I hope everyone in our country sees, is that’s not true. If you stand up for what is morally right, everything will be okay in the end.”[6]

In Oklahoma, Rep. Mauree Turner, the first openly nonbinary state legislator in the United States, was also censured after allowing a protestor who was advocating against a ban on gender affirming care to use their office to recuperate after being arrested.[7] Rep. Turner was then removed from their committee assignments when they refused to apologize for the incident.

States Leading the Way for Trans Rights

While far more bills attacking trans Americans have been passed in 2023, there are also state legislators leading the fight to expand and protect LGBTQ+ rights. In Minnesota, Representative Leigh Finke, the first openly trans person elected to the Minnesota State Legislature, introduced and passed a bill to protect gender affirming care in the state. The bill also prevents the state courts from complying with child removal or extradition requests related to gender affirming care. Speaking about the passage of the bill, Rep. Finke said,


"We have a responsibility to create more space for our community to live their fullest, authentic lives without fear of violence, rejection, abuse or political attack."[8]

In Colorado, legislation to make the state a safe haven for trans people, which was first suggested by Rep. Brianna Titone, the only openly trans member of the state legislature and a LGBTQ+ Victory Institute alumnus, was signed into law by Governor Jared Polis. The bill protects against extradition and expands insurance coverage for people seeking gender affirming care.[9]

Rep. Titone has made it her mission in the state legislature to change her conservative colleague’s minds on LGBTQ+ and trans people. She often speaks to her Republican colleagues who espouse discriminatory beliefs and leverages her position to humanize the trans community. To her surprise, some of her colleagues appreciated the dialogue. Speaking about her role in changing the narrative, she said,


"If that's the only thing that I can get done, if I could prevent them from repeating these negative things about the trans LGBT community, then that's a win."[10]

Representation Matters

While there has been progress toward LGBTQ+ parity, LGBTQ+ people still hold just 0.23% of elected offices nationwide. To achieve parity, 36,232 more LGBTQ+ people must be elected. As detailed by Texas Rep. Jessica Gonzalez and Colorado Rep. Brianna Titone, the election of LGBTQ+ people isn’t just what’s right, it’s what is good for our representative democracy and a step towards protecting the LGBTQ+ community.

The Ascend Fund is proud to support the LGBTQ+ Victory Institute, which works to achieve and sustain LGBTQ+ political parity through leadership development, training, and convening to increase the number, expand the diversity, and ensure the success of openly LGBTQ+ elected and appointed officials at all levels of government. Learn more about their work and the path to parity in Victory Institute’s recent report, Out for America 2023: An Overview of LGBTQ+ Elected Officials in the U.S.