Texas. Arkansas. Tennessee. Kansas. These are just a few of many states nationwide waging a political war against the transgender community. According to CNN analysis of data compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a record-high number of anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced so far in 2022. And the year isn’t even over.
The bulk of these bigoted political attacks take aim at transgender and nonbinary youth, who comprise an estimated 18 percent of the 1.6 million trans people in the United States. Some bills seek to ban trans girls and young women from participating in school sports; other measures, like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s now-infamous anti-trans directive, would criminalize providing gender-affirming health care to trans youth. Meanwhile, this care is safe, effective, and universally supported by every major medical association in the U.S.
Supportive parents of trans and nonbinary youth in states with hostile legislation are deeply concerned for their kids’ wellbeing — and rightfully so. Aside from being flat-out discriminatory, these political attacks alienate and endanger an already vulnerable group. Growing up is hard enough without the psychic toll of your elected officials constantly invalidating your existence.
But there is reason to have hope. LGBTQ activists and legal advocates are actively combating this anti-trans crusade via lawsuits, grassroots rallies and political actions, and signal-boosting campaigns on social media. Their message is resoundingly clear: Trans youth need our support now more than ever.
SheKnows spoke to a few advocates in the space to better understand this tide of anti-trans legislation, and to identify some resources for parents of trans youth who want to do right by their children and their health. Here’s what they recommend.
Listen to your child
Listening to your trans or nonbinary child means validating their identity, encouraging them to explore their gender presentation, and using their pronouns and preferred name. This advice might sound simple, but its impact can be life-saving. A 2021 report from The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ suicide prevention organization, found that trans youth whose gender and pronouns were respected were less likely to attempt death by suicide.
Trans youth are too often patronized in broader discussions about LGBTQ equality. It’s a phenomenon that Karleigh Webb, a journalist and hotline operator for the trans-led peer support organization Trans Lifeline, sees time and time again. “Contrary to popular belief, young people read the news,” she tells SheKnows. “They understand very well what’s happening, and what’s happening is there is a full-court press effort in this country to remove transgender people — and by extension, LGBTQ people — out of American life.” It’s no wonder that Trans Lifeline sees higher numbers of panicked calls from trans people and their loved ones when anti-trans bills make headlines — or worse, are signed into law.
So, if your kid expresses fear, anxiety, or confusion about the transphobia they’re seeing in the headlines, hear them out. You don’t have to have a solution. A little patience, compassion, and willingness to listen can go a long way in soothing their nerves and validating their perspective.
Get educated on the policies — and resources — in your state
Although the Biden-Harris administration has made some important strides in affirming the federal rights of trans and nonbinary Americans, discriminatory attacks are still proliferating on the state level. Alexis Rangel, policy counsel at the National Center for Trans Equality (NCTE), recommends turning to local organizations for educational resources and legal guidance.
“Because the landscape is so different on a state-by-state basis, it’s really hard to compile [comprehensive] resources,” she tells SheKnows. “The needs of families in Texas, for instance, are very different from the needs of families in states that might not be as trans-friendly, but also aren’t quite as hostile.”
“…There’s a lot of fear, but there’s also a lot of resiliency.”
Your regional LGBTQ community center is a great place to turn for hyper-local information. (Find yours via the online directory at CenterLink, a member-based coalition of LGBTQ centers across the country.)
The ACLU also has many state-specific affiliate groups throughout the U.S. Some of these affiliates, such as the ACLU’s Texas chapter, have formed coalitions with other local trans advocacy groups for the specific purpose of helping trans people and their loved ones access information and resources. Sadly, for many families, traveling temporarily or relocating to a neighboring state without anti-trans laws is “simply not a possibility,” says Rangel.
“The trans community is not unfamiliar with these kinds of attacks,” she adds. “So there’s a lot of fear, but there’s also a lot of resiliency.
Connect with other parents of trans youth
Although raising a trans or nonbinary child might feel lonely, there are plenty of other parents in your shoes. Being in community with like-minded advocates is invaluable for exchanging mental and emotional support and sustaining morale in this ongoing fight. Webb recommends connecting directly with other parents, family, and loved ones of trans kids in your town, city, or state.
PFLAG, one of the country’s largest LGBTQ youth justice groups, has more than 400 local chapters for LGBTQ youth and their families throughout the U.S. Trans Lifeline also has a dedicated Family & Friends Hotline call-back service, which is open to friends, partners, parents, and family members of trans people who need advice on how to best support their loved ones. U.S.-based callers can access this service by calling the organization’s main hotline at 877-565-8860 and asking for the Friends & Family line.
“If you’re unsure and need someone to talk to, give us a call,” Webb says. “That’s what we’re here for.”
Be prepared to engage in political action
Voting for elected officials who vocally support the trans community is incredibly important in this fight. (Texans—your next chance to vote transphobic Gov. Abbott out of office is fast approaching.) But when push comes to shove, parents of trans youth who live in hostile states or regions might have to engage in more confrontational political action, such as protesting or calling up their state representatives. This can be a great opportunity to model different forms of civic engagement for your child.
“You’ve got to be prepared to stand in that gap and fight.”
“You’ve got to be prepared to stand in that gap and fight,” Webb says. “No matter how you feel about protest, no matter how you feel about being out in the streets, no matter how you feel about visiting your elected representatives, you have to do it.” This goes for educators, counselors, and other professionals who work with trans youth, too. “All it takes is one teacher, one administrator, one counselor to be there, and it can set a tone.”
Last, but certainly not least: If your child is personally impacted by an anti-trans policy in your state, contact the appropriate federal agency to document it. The Departments of Education and Health and Human Services, for instance, have forms on their respective websites for reporting instances of discrimination.
“Those are things that take time and don’t necessarily address the immediate concerns of families,” Rangel says. “So that’s more of a long-term way of addressing this, but we want to make sure that the federal government is aware of all these things.”
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, remember there is hope! Please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “STRENGTH” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org. For young LGBTQ people who need to talk to someone guaranteed to be affirming and prepared to help, call The Trevor Project’s 24-hour crisis hotline for youth at 1-866-488-7386 and/or The Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860.
Before you go, check out the mental health apps we love for extra TLC for your brains: