This has become a record-breaking year for anti-trans legislation, with over 100 bills introduced in state legislatures across the country. Most of the legislation being debated targets transgender children, with over 30 bills intended to deny trans kids lifesaving gender-affirming medical care and over 60 bills intended to deny trans children the ability to participate in sports. With these laws passing in states across the country, we have to take a stand and let trans youth know they are not alone. Trans kids need to be told again and again that they are supported, loved, and celebrated, especially when legislators attempt to use them for political gain, stripping their rights and enacting serious damage in the process.
I spoke with S.W., mother of a transgender child and educational therapist, and she shared this fear with me.
“To be honest, in the moment when my 12-year-old said this is what’s going on for me, I knew it was life or death,” she said. “I knew it. I knew that if she didn’t have the appropriate affirming care, that she might not be around.”
Yet legislators are attempting to take these decisions out of medical providers’ hands. There is a medical consensus on how to treat transgender youth, the American Academy of Pediatrics has long supported gender-affirming care and has come out in strong opposition of legislation that would take these decisions out of the hands of doctors, parents and trans youth. They are not the only ones. The American Academy of Family Physicians, American College of Physicians, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Osteopathic Association, Endocrine Society, and the American Medical Association all oppose this legislation based in fear and hate, not science.
“Top medical experts say this is the way you deal with this, this is the treatment,” S.W. told me. “All of the evidence points that way, all of the research.”
What’s most infuriating about this legislation is that it is entirely unnecessary and at the same time has the capacity to cause severe harm.
“These bills are not addressing any real problem, and they’re not being requested by constituents,” Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David said in a statement. “Rather, this effort is being driven by national far-right organizations attempting to score political points by sowing fear and hate.”
There simply is not an issue of trans girls overtaking their cisgendered peers in high school or collegiate sports. Lawmakers know this. They claim they are being proactive, but when pressed, they cannot name specific examples of trans athletes causing any kind of problems. These legislators are creating problems to distract us from the very real problems we are all struggling with: living in the midst of a global pandemic, in a country that is perhaps more divided than ever before, many of us struggling to make ends meet and to feel safe in our communities, simply for existing as our authentic selves.
While completely unnecessary, this legislation is also extremely harmful, as Debi Jackson, mother of a trans child and nationally known advocate for trans rights and founder of Gender Inc, shared with me. “It’s mentally and emotionally devastating,” she said. “No child, no teen should have to fight every single day to be seen as a full person deserving of love and respect. Legislators are sending them a message that they don’t matter. But they do. They very much do.”
So what can we do to support trans youth?
Trans voices must be at the center of this effort. We must listen when they tell us what is needed and how to best support trans kids.
“Studies show that the likelihood of trans youth attempting suicide is drastically lowered when they have supportive family,” Berry Grass, a trans woman and writing professor at Rosemont College, told me. “Parents, please listen to your kids. Please let them explore. And please talk to trans adults in your part of the country! What is so often lacking from depictions of trans people in the media is how transition is a clinically proven means of improving quality of life. I implore you to understand that your trans child can have a happy, fully-embodied, fulfilling life; that being trans is not a tragedy.”
Trans kids need to know they are supported, celebrated, and loved, not simply tolerated. The mental health implications of knowing these arguments are happening in legislative sessions across the country is demoralizing.
“The harm these legislative efforts enact upon trans youth cannot be overstated,” Berry said. “How can a trans child trust in the basic foundations of society if their governments are passing laws curtailing their rights? Laws that deliberately eschew the scientific consensus that trans people are valid?”
So how do we push back? Loudly. Educate yourself. Learn all you can about the bills being introduced in your state and be sure your legislators hear your opposition. Educate yourself on the barriers trans folks face to accessing safe, affirming medical care, even without legislators getting in the way. Educate yourself on the importance of pronouns, include your own pronouns in email signatures and introductions. Use gender neutral pronouns when appropriate. Do the work to ensure your schools, your communities, your businesses are trans affirming and safe.
Include your children in this learning, even very young children understand gender stereotypes and what behavior is expected of them. Disrupt this indoctrination by breaking down gender stereotypes within your own home, and allow your children to be unabashedly who they are. Talk to your kids about the difference between gender and sex, whether they are 3 or 13. You can and should have age-appropriate conversations about what gender is and how gender stereotypes and expectations hurt all of us. If you’re unsure where to start, The Gender Unicorn, developed by Trans Student Educational Resources, is a helpful tool to use with older kids. There are also many great children’s books you can explore with younger kids including but not limited to:
I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
Neither by Airlie Anderson
When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff
Lovely by Jess Hong
It Feels Good To Be Yourself: A Book About Gender Identity by Theresa Thorn and Noah Grigni
Red: A Crayons Story by Michael Hall
Introducing Teddy by Jessica Walton
Support the Equality Act
We as a country are in dire need of LGBTQ protections at the federal level. When asked what people could do to support trans kids, Debi Jackson stated emphatically, “PLEASE BE VOCAL IN SUPPORTING TRANS KIDS. Call and email your legislators. Call legislators in other states and tell them that attacking vulnerable kids is not okay. Demand that senators pass the Equality Act. We need as many people fighting the anti-trans movement as possible.”
You may not know any trans children, but you can still be a vocal supporter and ally.
“Listen to your kids and trust them to know who they are,” Jackson said. “Show them that you will stand up for them. Be there when they need to cry. Be their safe space. Love the heck out of them. That’s what they need more than anything.”
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