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Mississippi's new bill is step one to legally erasing trans people

Transgender name changes are the newest target for conservatives' attack on trans rights.

Conservative state legislators are kicking this year’s sessions off looking to burnish their bonafides with evangelical voters ahead of the 2022 elections. Discriminating against trans people, especially trans youth, has become almost a singular obsession for today’s Republican Party, alongside banning abortion and limiting voting rights. And this year looks to be an especially busy season for transphobic bigotry in state capitals around the country.

What’s notable about the bill is it’s the first time American conservatives have actively tried curtailing transgender name changes.

Most red states have picked up where they left off last session, pushing for transphobic policies like banning trans girls from playing on female school sports teams and blocking trans youth from accessing gender-affirming health care, including nonpermanent options like puberty blockers. But one state is taking things further. A conservative legislator in Mississippi introduced “The Real You Act of 2022,” a bill that would ban incarcerated trans people from changing their names and also banning trans youth from legally changing their gender.

What’s notable about the bill is it’s the first time American conservatives have actively tried curtailing transgender name changes. Two years ago, Idaho passed a bill that banned trans people from changing genders on their birth certificates, but the law was later enjoined in federal court. But to this point, the name-change process used when transitioning — which is the same cisgender women use regularly when getting married or divorced — has been left alone by anti-trans politicians.

That’s not to say the name-change process was off conservative radars. The anti-LGBTQ group Family Research Council’s 2015 paper on responding to the transgender movement laid out several key policy goals to limit the rights of trans people and curtail social acceptance of trans identities, That included banning trans people from U.S. military service and banning gender-affirming health care for all trans people, but especially trans teenagers.

Another recommendation was a ban on trans people obtaining legal identification that affirms their identity and how they live their lives — including name changes. Trans people would be much less likely to even consider transitioning, the Family Research Council reasoned, if it meant they would be viewed as illegitimate human beings by the state. It’s this underlying bigotry that drives the entire right-wing attack on trans lives.

Until now, the name-change process has largely been left alone in the United States.

Most of the recommended policy goals have already been pursued by conservative state legislators in dozens of states. The federal government under former President Donald Trump also took a page from the Family Research Council in its ban on trans military members and other policies. But until now, the name-change process has largely been left alone in the United States. That’s not the case elsewhere in the world, though.

In 2020, Hungary’s leading conservative party, led by strongman Viktor Orban, passed a law that banned legal name and gender changes for trans people, even reversing those previously approved. The law made it essentially impossible to legally exist as a trans person in the country, dealing a devastating blow to Hungarian trans people and the country’s broader civil rights movement.

American conservatives have increasingly built connections with far-right movements in Europe, especially in right-wing countries like Hungary and Poland, which itself has been roiled with anti-LGBTQ sentiment, including establishing so-called LGBTQ-free zones. They’ve also increasingly talked up Hungary as a model for America to follow. Just last Friday morning, the ultra-conservative news channel Newsmax hosted the Hungarian minister of foreign affairs and trade to promote the country’s newest anti-LGBTQ law banning queer content from Hungary’s schools.

The fight against trans rights folds neatly into the “great replacement” conspiracy theory that conservatives have increasingly embraced in the United States. These conservatives see trans men, those who were assigned female at birth, as wasting their potential to produce white babies. They also paint trans women as a sexual threat to white women. Limiting transition by any means necessary will, in their minds, help maintain white power in America.

It’s concerning then to see Mississippi lawmakers taking yet another page out of Hungary’s playbook. For now, the bill’s only co-sponsor is the state senator who introduced it, Republican Chad McMahon. McMahon doesn’t appear to be an archetypical right-wing troll, only occasionally tweeting, mostly to commemorate holidays or law enforcement. A list of other bills he’s sponsored is rather anodyne. It’s still early in the legislative session, but the bill could gain steam if other efforts to limit trans rights in the state fail.

The politics of the movement are savvy, if obviously cruel. The burdens of “The Real You Act of 2022” would fall most heavily on trans youth, who would be forced to graduate high school and apply for college in a name and gender that doesn’t fit, thus forcing unneeded time-wasting bureaucracy and expense later in life. But opposition to a bill like this opens the door for conservatives to paint Democrats as soft on crime or supporting criminals.

The bill may not pass anytime soon, but it doesn’t have to for it to succeed. For now, it’s an obvious trial balloon for a future proposal to ban name changes for trans people entirely. It’s a terrifying time to be transgender in the U.S. — and it will most likely only get worse as the midterms approach.