South view of the State Capitol in Jackson. The first Legislative session of the new year convenes today, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2021. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Lawmakers have introduced 31 bills targeting the rights of LGBTQ+ Mississippians in education and health care as the first deadline to pass bills out of committee approaches.

It is likely the highest number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced in any state legislature so far this year, say civil rights and LGBTQ+ advocates in Mississippi. Second to Mississippi is Missouri, where lawmakers have introduced 29 bills, according to a tracker from the American Civil Liberties Union. 

Just eight bills targeting the LGBTQ+ community were introduced last year in Mississippi, according to advocates. 

“I don’t know about anybody else, but my head is kind of spinning from all of this,” said Rob Hill, the state director of the Human Rights Campaign Mississippi. “I’ve never seen anything like this from the years that I’ve been working in Mississippi. I get it if anybody else is overwhelmed by this, because I certainly am.” 

Hill spoke during a call on Monday held by advocates – including the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Immigrant Alliance for Justice and Equity, and the Trans Program. 

The explosion of anti-LGBTQ+ bills, advocates said, is in part tied to this year’s election in Mississippi. The state’s trans community – the explicit target of many of these bills – is small. Last year, the Williams Institute, a research institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law, estimated there are just 9,600 trans adults in Mississippi and 2,400 trans youth, a fraction of the nearly 3 million people who live in the state. 

The bills range in scope and severity. Two House bills would prevent gender-confirmation surgery from being performed on anyone under the age of 21 in Mississippi; two more Senate bills would make this kind of surgery a form of child abuse. Another replicates Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” Act. 

Many of the bills that advocates are tracking are duplicates, and most won’t make it out of committee. But research by the Trevor Project, a nonprofit focused on suicide prevention among LGBTQ+ youth, has shown that bills don’t have to pass in order to have a harmful affect on the community’s mental health

The bill with the fastest legs – House Bill 1125, also known as the “Regulate Experimental Adolescent Procedures Act,” or REAP – passed out of the House on Jan. 19. Authored by Rep. Gene Newman, R-Pearl, it would prohibit Mississippi doctors from performing gender-affirming surgery or writing prescriptions for hormone replacement therapy or puberty blockers to minors. 

Families could not be reimbursed by insurers or Medicaid for these procedures. Any doctor that violated the law would lose their license and tort claim protections and could be sued under a “civil claim of action” for 30 years.  

On the call, McKenna Raney-Gray, staff attorney for the ACLU’s LGBTQ Justice Project, noted the bill is based on misconceptions about trans health care. Gender-affirming care is not “experimental,” she said, but is endorsed by major medical associations including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association

“The terminology that they’re using in the names of the acts is incredibly inaccurate and mischaracterizing everything about gender-affirming care,” Raney-Gray said. 

Mississippians under 18 aren’t getting gender-confirmation surgery in the state. On the floor, Rep. Nick Bain, R-Corinth, said he doesn’t know of any Mississippi children who’ve received it. The University of Mississippi Medical Center had 47 “visits” regarding gender affirming care between 2017 and 2022, but Bain said he is unsure if any of those patients were minors. 

Trans youth in Mississippi – namely 16- and 17-year-olds – are receiving hormone replacement therapy, though advocates suspect this is likely not happening at high rates. While this form of treatment has been shown to improve mental health and reduce suicidality, it can be difficult for trans youth to obtain if they lack family support, the financial means, or access to supportive doctors. 

“It breaks my heart y’all, because it’s nowhere near accurate,” said Jensen Luke Matar, the director of the nonprofit Trans Program. “It’s fluffed up in a way to make it seem like they’re working hard to protect our children, and it’s the exact opposite.” 

Across the country, research has shown that anti-LGBTQ legislation is linked to more Internet searches about suicide and depression

In Texas, after Gov. Greg Abbott ordered child welfare officials to investigate reports of children receiving gender-affirming care as child abuse, a 16-year-old transgender boy attempted suicide. After his family sought treatment, they were investigated for child abuse, according to a lawsuit. 

Last week, HB 1125 was assigned to a Senate committee. On the call, advocates speculated the reason for its speedy movement in the Senate is that the lieutenant governor, Delbert Hosemann, faces a challenge from the right this year in Sen. Chris McDaniel

“It’s just chess,” Matar said. “They’re playing chess, and they’re using the most vulnerable population as their pawns.” 

“This is a complete attack,” he added. 

Raney-Gray said that many of the introduced bills in Mississippi are identical to bills filed across the country in the last year. HB 1125 is similar to legislation in Alabama and Arkansas, but she said it comes with a significant edit. 

While the version of the REAP Act that passed in Alabama and Arkansas made it a crime for doctors to provide gender-affirming care, Mississippi’s bill only imposes civil penalities. 

Raney-Gray said the changes to Mississippi’s seem designed so that the REAP Act holds up in Mississippi’s courts, while the bills in Alabama and Arkansas have been blocked by the courts. 

Anti-LGBTQ+ bills identified by advocates: 

HB 576: Gender reassignment surgery or services; prohibit performing or paying for. 

HB 1124: Gender reassignment surgery or services; prohibit performing or paying for.

HB 1258: Gender Transition Procedures; prohibit for persons under age twenty-one.

HB 1126: Transgender procedures; restrict for persons under age 21.

SB 2760: Mississippi Help Not Harm Act; enact.

HB 1127: MS Safe Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE); create to prohibit providing gender transition procedures to minors.

HB 1125: Regulate Experimental Adolescent Procedures (REAP) Act; create to regulate transgender procedures and surgeries.

SB 2770: Gender reassignment surgery; criminalize performance of upon minors.

SB 2861: Insurance; prohibit mandates for gender reassignment surgery or services.

SB 2864: State funded health plans and Medicaid; prohibit payment of gender reassignment surgery or services

HB 456: Child abuse; revise definition to include gender reassignment.

SB 2883: Child sex abuse; include chemical or physical sterilization of child within definition of.

HB 509:”Families’ Rights and Responsibilities Act of 2023″; enact.

HB 1476: “Families’ Rights and Responsibilities Act of 2023”; enact.

HB 1478: Parental rights; establish fundamental right of parents to direct the upbringing, education and care of their children.

SB 2763: Families’ Rights and Responsibilities Act; enact.

HB 1489: “Families’ Rights and Responsibilities Act of 2023”; enact.

HB 1479: Parental rights; establish fundamental right of parents to direct the upbringing, education and care of their children.

HB 1480: “Parents’ Bill of Rights Act of 2023”; enact.

SB 2761: Parents’ Bill of Rights; enact.

SB 2765: Mississippi Families’ Rights And Responsibilities Act

HB 1074: The Title IX Preservation Act; enact.

SB 2820: “Transparency in Education Act”; prohibit certain curriculum in public schools without parental consent

SB 2773: The Defense of Title IX Act; enact.

HB 1144: Title IX Preservation Act; create.

SB 2076: Title IX Preservation Act; enact

HB 1367: The Academic Transparency Act of 2023; enact.

HB 1045: Libraries; regulate the material that is curated for children and younger teens.

SB 2141: Distribution of obscene materials; delete exemption for public school libraries.

SB 2764: Parental rights in education; prohibit instruction regarding sexual orientation or gender identity in K-12

SB 2058: School counselors; delete requirement of counselors to abide by the American School Counselor Association Code of Ethics.

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Molly Minta covers higher education for Mississippi Today. She works in partnership with Open Campus, a nonprofit news organization focused on investigating higher education. Originally from Melbourne Beach, Florida, Molly reported on public housing and prosecutors in her home state and worked as a fact-checker at The Nation before joining Mississippi Today. Her story on Mississippi's only class on critical race theory was a finalist for the Education Writers Association National Awards for Education Reporting in 2023 in the feature reporting category.