The great US rights rollback

By Maxwell Elliff
America. The self-proclaimed ‘land of the free’ and ‘home of the brave’. But if you have been paying attention to US politics this year, you’d be forgiven for thinking that freedom and bravery had been thrown out of the proverbial window.
 |  Opinion

The USA, a global superpower, has long paved the way forward for LGBTIQ+ people. It is the birthplace of everything from the Stonewall riots and Harvey Milk to Brokeback Mountain and RuPaul’s Drag Race. In 2015, same-sex marriage was legalised in all fifty states. The upcoming WorldPride 2025 will be hosted by none other than the nation’s capital of Washington DC. 

Despite all this, 2023 has been — to put it bluntly — disastrous. The conservative far right has for decades pushed anti-LGBTIQ+ sentiment and used fear-mongering tactics to weaponise the belief that queerness poses a direct threat to the all-American family. And this has been their most successful year yet. So successful, in fact, that the Human Rights Campaign (America’s largest LGBTIQ+ advocacy and lobby group) declared its first ever ‘national state of emergency’.

The governments of Canada, New Zealand and Mexico have all warned their queer citizens against travelling to some parts of the US. But what has led to this? Which battles have begun? Where do we go from here?

Since the onset of the 2020s, anti-LGBTIQ+ legislation has shifted away from the general queer population towards specific targeting of transgender and gender non-conforming youth. In 2022, Florida began the wave of hate when conservative Republican governor Ron DeSantis signed the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill into law — effectively banning any conversation about sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools.

This created a snowball effect, as conservative state governments across the US raced to propose their own versions of these draconian laws. 2023 has seen over 525 bills proposed across 41 states (compared to 115 in 2015) and by June, seventy-seven of these had been signed into law — making this year the worst on record for the equality movement in the US.

As it stands, a crushing blow has been dealt to the wellbeing and safety of transgender and non-binary youth and their families. Some 33.8% of trans high schoolers (an estimated 101,500 students) are unable to play sport with their classmates, as 23 states adopted laws banning trans athletes participating in sports.

Life-saving best practice healthcare is now unavailable to 30.9% of trans 13-17 year olds (an estimated 92,700 teens) after 20 states enacted bans on gender-affirming care. 15.1% of trans people aged 13 and over (some 247,000 people) are unable to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity due to new laws in 10 states.

Another 12.3% of trans students (almost 274,000) live in the six states that have adopted Don’t Say Gay policies — meaning they won’t learn about sexual orientation, gender identity or queer history and people in the classroom. Forced ‘outing’ laws in six states mean that 4.4% of trans youth aged 13-17 (some 13,100 students) could be outed to their parents as teachers, administrators and other school staff are now legally required to report if a student adopts new chosen names or pronouns. The list goes on and on.

Consequences resulting from such laws are widespread and severe. The Trevor Project crisis hotline saw a 150% rise in calls in 2021 (compared to 2020) after Texan lawmakers began targeting queer youth. A 2022 survey found two-thirds of young people reported a worsening of mental health after “hearing about potential state or local laws banning people from discussing LGBTQ people at school”. Another survey of 113 LGBTIQ+ adults in Florida found 56% had considered moving interstate after the Don’t Say Gay bill passed — and 17% had already taken steps to do so.

Research has been clear that queer students in schools that have an inclusive curriculum and teach about queer history and issues feel safer, are safer and do better in school. They are more likely to attend college and less afraid that their identity would hinder future education and employment prospects.

The benefits of sports participation for young people are well documented and include lower levels of anxiety and depression, and improved self-esteem and academic performance.

From June 2022 to April 2023, GLAAD (The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) tracked at least 356 incidents of anti-LGBTIQ+ hate and extremism in the United States.

In spite of the tidal wave of discrimination felt in America this year, it isn’t all doom and gloom. While many laws have passed, many more have failed. Sitting commander-in-chief, President Joe Biden, has made it clear that the White House will continue to do what it can to minimise the attacks on the LGBTIQ+ community at the state level.

When extremist groups and governments spread fear and hatred, the queer community and its allies are mobilised into action, as we have done so many times before. Complacency does nothing to further the march towards equality.

The United States is a vast and colourful nation — that in many ways mirrors Australia — with a history deep-rooted in the fight for equal rights for all. If history is anything to go on, freedom and bravery tend to prevail.


In 2025, Washington DC is set to host WorldPride, the largest LGBTIQ+ celebration on the planet. Unlike some other cities in America, Washington proclaims it’s an inclusive, queer-welcoming LOCATION with a celebrated and loved LGBTIQ+ community.

Rich in culture and history, the city says it’s so much more than the political landscape it’s famous for, from inclusive nightlife spaces to a vibrant array of activities for all people within the LGBTIQ+ community. The American capital also boasts the highest queer population percentage in the whole of the US, making it a diverse and exciting place to explore.

When it was announced that the city had won its bid to host the world-renowned pride event, Gay Times, one of Europe’s largest LGBTIQ+ magazines, told its readers, “Washington DC is a surprising but incredibly worthy host of WorldPride 2025.

If you want to find out more about WorldPride 2025 you can visit the official website, link below.


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