While the United States continues to struggle with the ramifications of a full-blown pandemic, some politicians have decided that trying to pass anti-trans legislation is the best use of their time. Over the past week, the GOP's anti-trans crusade has entered full force, with harmful bills popping up in states like Arkansas and Tennessee. Advocates warn that if more of these bills are allowed to pass, trans youth will effectively be barred from receiving life-saving treatment.
Unfortunately, anti-trans legislation in the U.S. is nothing new, but that doesn't make a series of bills passing through states any less horrific. And this time, children are the target. In just one state — Tennessee — the onslaught has been aggressive. The Tennessee House advanced a bill on March 25 that would make it a misdemeanor for doctors to provide gender-affirming care to trans kids who haven't reached puberty. On March 26, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) signed a transphobic bill requiring student athletes to compete in sports according to their assigned sex at birth. On March 29, the Tennessee House passed a bill restricting transgender individuals from using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity.
Meanwhile, also on March 29, the Arkansas Senate passed a bill banning access to gender-affirming care for trans minors, specifically targeting the use of hormones and puberty blockers — though in a surprise move, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson vetoed that bill Monday. And in Alabama, lawmakers are currently eyeing bans on gender-affirming medical treatment.
Overall, state lawmakers have proposed a record number of anti-trans legislation this year, with 82 bills introduced nationwide through March, per the Human Rights Campaign. Among this legislation, a sort of "save the kids" rhetoric has become extremely popular, as evidenced by the number of bills targeting popular medical treatment for minors, like puberty blockers.
Puberty blockers are temporary solutions to help ensure children don't have to experience heightened gender dysphoria by developing breasts, facial hair, or other physical "markers" of a gender that isn't theirs. They're also reversible; once you stop taking puberty blockers, you go through puberty. However, anti-trans rhetoric has pushed a number of myths surrounding their use, claiming wrongly that they are dangerous.
For example, Emilie Kao, director of the Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at the Heritage Foundation, told CNN, "The psychological aspect of the treatment of gender dysphoria needs to be thoroughly investigated and debated." She went on to claim, "The most authoritative studies of those people with gender dysphoria who have gone through surgical intervention show that there is an increase in the level of suicidal ideation after going through surgeries."
But per CNN, Kao is referencing a 2011 Swedish study, whose author, Cecilia Dhejne, has since told The Trans Advocate that her study's findings have been misinterpreted and "studies thereafter show that medical gender confirming interventions reduces gender dysphoria." In fact, 2020 a paper published in Pediatrics found trans youth who can access puberty blockers are a lot less likely to contemplate suicide. Earlier this year, a study by researchers from University College London and the NHS Gender Identity Development Service found that puberty blockers helps trans youth feel happier and healthier.
Access to health care is not the only thing that legislators are going after. There are over 20 states that want to ban trans women from competing in girls' and women's sport competitions. After signing the Fairness in Women's Sports Act last month, Hutchinson said in a statement, "This law simply says that female athletes should not have to compete in a sport against a student of the male sex when the sport is designed for women's competition."
But as Hutchinson's comments reveal, laws attempting to ban trans women from women's competitions are not about fairness. They are just about further separating trans women from womanhood. It's transmisogyny, plain and simple. And in response to the slew of Republican-backed legislation targeting trans youth, a number of doctors have condemned them.
“We are in the middle of a pandemic that has led to staggering rises in mental health concerns among children and teens. Transgender children had statistically higher rates of depression and suicidal ideation before the pandemic: Around half of transgender youth consider suicide, and a third attempt it," Lee Savior Beers, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said in a statement.
The AAP recommends trans youth have access to gender-affirming care and sports, as playing them tends to help youths' mental health. But, as Beers went on to add, "These bills not only ignore these recommendations, they undermine them. ... Politics has no place here. Transgender children, like all children, just want to belong."
Update April 6: The Arkansas legislature overrode Hutchinson's veto of the transphobic law banning gender-affirming health care for transgender minors. The law will now go into effect, though the ACLU has already vowed to challenge it in court.