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Marshall University's Student Newspaper

The Parthenon

Marshall University's Student Newspaper

The Parthenon

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OPINION: West Virginia Senator Introduces Legislation That Could Harm Trans Youth

West+Virginia+Capitol+Building+located+in+Charleston%2C+West+Virginia
Courtesy of Austin O’Connor
West Virginia Capitol Building located in Charleston, West Virginia

West Virginia Republican Senator Mike Azinger introduced three pieces of anti-trans legislation on Wednesday, Jan. 10, including Senate Bill 197, which would see a ban on transgender and “obscene matter” from being within 2,500 feet of a school.

These bills would target the state’s transgender community by eliminating their options for gender-affirming care and imposing limits that could criminalize the presence of transgender people in schools and public places.

According to the bill, SB 197 would ban all material deemed “obscene” or sexually explicit, including “any transvestite and/or transgender exposure” from any public school facilities in the state. Any school faculty or staff in noncompliance with the bill could face up to one year in prison or a $500 fine; however, Azinger’s bill does not mention the effect on transgender students.

Azinger also introduced Senate Bill 195, which would ban “indecent displays,” according to the bill. This would include “any transvestite and/or transgender exposure in performances” in public spaces that allow entry for those under the age of 18 years old.Any business or venue found in violation would face a fine up to $500. This bill would also target drag performances in public spaces, restricting performances to venues that are 18+.

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Senate Bill 194 was also introduced by Sens. Laura Chapman, Chandler Swope, Jay Taylor and Patricia Rucker, which proposes a ban on all gender-affirming care for those under the age of 21. All therapists and social workers are required to “cure” those seeking gender-reaffirming care while creating whistleblower protections, with providers facing a fine of up to $10,000 if found guilty of providing care.

This bill expands on the legislation signed by Governor and Senate-hopeful Jim Justice in March of 2023, which banned gender-affirming care in the state such as hormone therapy and puberty blockers.

These bills mark the state’s continued anti-trans legislation proposed by the state’s Republican supermajority Congress, beginning with the ban that passed against transgender athletes from participating in school sports in 2021. The ban has since been blocked by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals following a counter-suit by then 12-year-old transgender girl and cross-country runner Becky Pepper-Jackson of Bridgeport, West Virginia. 

While Senate Bills 197l 195 and 194 have only been introduced by Azinger, they are likely to pass the state’s supermajority legislature. This would make the lives of trans youth increasingly more dangerous, which comprises 2,383 individuals or 0.68% of West Virginia’s population, according to a 2022 study by UCLA Law’s The Williams Institute.The anti-transgender legislation that has swept the nation has marked a significant increase in challenges facing the trans community. A poll conducted by the Trevor Project in 2023 found that 41% of young LGBTQ members considered suicide in the past year, with higher rates specifically for nonbinary and transgender people. The study also found that inclusive policies and increased protections improved mental health outcomes for members of the community. 

Last year, over 220 pieces of bills were introduced nationwide that attempt to limit transgender rights, according to the Human Rights Campaign. This marks an all-time high for anti-transgender legislation with 179 of those bills targeting gender-affirming care. Over 35% of the nation’s trans youth are now living in states that ban gender-affirming care.

According to polling conducted in March 2023 by NPR, PBS NewsHour and Marist National Poll, support for legislation that criminalizes gender-affirming care is growing; however, it is still only supported by a minority of American citizens, with 43% supporting and 54% opposing the legislation. Support for the legislation that criminalizes care has risen from 28% in April of 2021.

The increased support for transphobic legislation is likely due to the cultural politics that have been used to stir controversy by some media outlets, increasing the partisan divide on transgender issues. Only 1.6% of the nation’s population identify as non-binary or transgender according to a Pew Research Center Poll conducted in 2022.

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About the Contributor
Matthew Schaffer, Managing Editor
Matthew Schaffer is a senior at Marshall University pursuing a B.A. in multimedia journalism with a minor in political science. He follows national politics and foreign affairs. He has previously worked as a reporter for both The Parthenon and WMUL. After graduating, he plans to pursue a political and investigative journalism career. In the meantime, he is the self-proclaimed "Hoops Fever Champion" and is, in fact, accepting challengers.
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