From gender-affirming care, to education, to simply being legally recognized by the state, it’s no secret that LGBTQIA+ rights have always been under attack. But in 2023 alone, over 400 anti-trans bills have been introduced across the country, making this a record year for anti-trans legislation attempting to impede and drastically strip away basic rights and protections for trans people.

This International Day of Trans Visibility comes at a uniquely heightened time of sensitivity in our country’s history where trans people and the larger LGBTQIA+ community are not just being threatened but villainized.

“You know, last year was a record year. And, the year before that was a record year. But we've seen at this point more bills introduced in just these first three months than we were tracking all last year,” says Ani Fete Crews, Director of Stakeholder Engagement for the Human Rights Campaign. “I think the important thing to know is that this is absolutely a coordinated effort. There are organizations who are actively pursuing the introduction of these bills across the country with an aim to roll back protections for LGBTQIA+ people nationwide. And, it's really rooted in the same kinds of historic homophobia and transphobia that we've seen time and time again.”

Ahead, Crews lays out the devastating impact these laws could have on LGBTQIA+ individuals if passed, and what corporate leaders can do both internally and externally to support, empower, and elevate this marginalized community.

Understanding the Laws That Have Been Introduced

In order to take proper action in the fight for LGBTQIA+ rights, Crews says it’s critical for leaders to understand what protections are currently being threatened.

Right now, at least 10 states have passed laws or policies that restrict gender-affirming care for people under 18, with three states targeting individuals up to the ages of 21 and 26. Research shows that gender-affirming care, which includes mental health care, medical care, and social services, can be life-saving for gender diverse, transgender, and non-binary individuals. These individuals, according to data, experience higher levels of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts due to social stigmas and discrimination that hinders their ability to live freely.

In addition to bans on gender-affirming care, several states have also introduced laws that will block trans youth from participating in sports that align with their gender identity, block schools from teaching any curriculum that touches on sexual orientation or LGBTQIA+ history, ban drag shows from taking place in public, and allow individuals to discriminate against someone because of their religious beliefs.

“We even have bathroom bills resurfacing,” says Crews. In 2016, bathroom bills, which prevent transgender people from using bathrooms that align with their gender identity in schools and government buildings, became prominent when North Carolina introduced their HB2 bill. Though the law was partially repealed a year later, several states have since introduced their own version of a bathroom bill. Earlier this year, the Arkansas House passed a bill that prohibits trans and gender-nonconforming K-12 students from using bathrooms that are consistent with their gender identity. And most recently, lawmakers in Kentucky overrode a veto from the governor to pass a bill that not only restricts which bathrooms transgender youth can use, but that also bans gender-affirming care, gender identity discussions in schools, and that allows teachers to use a student’s birth name and pronouns against their wishes.

“This is all an effort to make it difficult for young trans people, and trans people in general, to live let alone thrive,” says Crews. “If you think about a young person who's in a state where there are efforts to ban access to the healthcare that they need, or ban their ability to play sports and be with their friends, or ban the ability for their teachers to support them through curriculums and books, or allow individuals to discriminate against them because it doesn't align with their religious beliefs, or remove people who look like them from public's view through drag bills, then it’s really like you’re kicking the stool out from under them.”

In Florida, where lawmakers are working to expand the “Don’t Say Gay” bill that forbids teachers from discussing gender identity in the classroom, more than half of LGBTQIA+ parents in the state say they are thinking about relocating, a move that can directly impact the state’s economy.

Using Your Corporate Voice for Good

Crews applauds states like Michigan, who earlier this year added LGBTQIA+ protections to their anti-discrimination law. And states like California, who signed two new bills to advance transgender equality. But while some states work to increase protections, there are many who are working to eliminate them, which is why Crews says it’s critical for corporate leaders to step up and take action.

As the leader of HRC’s corporate public policy and engagement work, Crews says now is an important time for executives to check in with their LGBTQIA+ employee resource groups to see how these proposed bans and anti-trans rhetoric, which has since been heightened following the Nashville, Tennessee school shooter identifying as transgender, is impacting them.

“Leaders should also have internal training and discussions on what allyship looks like in the workforce, and try to build people’s understanding and knowledge about the transgender and non-binary community,” Crews says. As a resource, Crews points to HRC’s Corporate Equality Index for guidance on the policies and practices companies should incorporate to ensure that they’re truly inclusive of LGBTQIA+ individuals. This includes equal health coverage for transgender employees, new hire training that outlines how the company’s nondiscriminatory policy includes gender identity and sexual orientation, and supervisor training that includes definitions and illustrated scenarios of how workplace policies support and protect LGBTQIA+ individuals.

“The other thing that I think is so critical, and it's hard to talk about in specificity, but it's the behind-the-scenes lobbying and pressure that companies who have strong ties to lawmakers can do,” says Crews. In most cases, Fortune 500 companies who have government affairs departments that have direct lines of communication with policymakers carry significant weight. “It's the private meetings where company leaders can communicate the impact this has on their bottom line, and the impact this has on business operations to lawmakers who need to hear this kind of messaging,” that could be truly impactful, adds Crews.

For example, in North Carolina, it’s estimated that had the bathroom bill not been repealed, the state could have lost more than $3.76 billion in business over 12 years.

While Crews says that the behind-the-scenes work is really critical for helping stall legislation, equally as important is managing public perception, which includes releasing public statements in support of the LGBTQIA+ community, as well as year-round brand messaging and marketing that is inclusive of these individuals.

For companies with more than 500 employees looking to publicly show their support, Crews says signing HRC’s Business Statement on Anti-LGBTQIA+ State Legislation is a great place to start. So far, more than 300 companies have signed the pledge.

“This is really a business case,” says Crews. “The LGBTQIA+ community is ascendant. If you look at the numbers, we expect by 2030 that a good chunk of the workforce will be millennials and Gen Z, who we know are more out than ever before and also more allied than ever before. And they are looking for companies to be leaning into this work. So as companies look forward and look to the future, this is something they must really understand.”