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Transgender youth in the US targeted by wave of Republican laws

According to HRC, 2021 had the most anti-transgender legislation of all years, but 2022 has now surpassed it, 130 of the 300 anti-LGBTQ+ bills targeting transgender youth.

In April the Kentucky state legislature voted to overrule the governors veto of SB 83, ushering the transgender sports ban into law. 

Republican lawmakers in 12 predominantly red states have all passed similar bills banning transgender youth from playing on teams that correspond to their gender identity and more than a dozen states are considering proposals criminalizing gender-affirming medical care to transgender children and teenagers. All of which have been passed in 2021. Now in 2022, there are more anti-transgender before state legislatures than ever before.  

On March 3rd, 2022, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed Bill HF 2416 into law. The Bill states in part that, “only female students, based on their sex, may participate in any team, sport, or athletic event designated as being for females, women, or girls.” 

Eleven states including Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee and Texas have also passed state laws that ban transgender students from participating in sports that match their gender identity. Many other states have similar legislation in process that has not yet become law. Six other states initially passed similar bills that were later vetoed by the states governors.

Though many Anti transgender bills are brought forth by Republicans, not all party members share the same sentiment. Republican Governor Spencer Cox, who recently vetoed a Utah bill, wrote, “Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few. I don’t understand what they are going through or why they feel the way they do, but I want [transgender youth] to live. And all the research shows that even a little acceptance and connection can reduce suicidality significantly.”

In March of 2021, Tennessee Bill SB 228, was signed by the state’s governor, Bill Lee, which requires middle and high school student-athletes in Tennessee to participate in school sports under their assigned sex at birth. 

In statements leading up to the passing of the bill, the Republican Governor said that transgender girls should be banned from playing on middle and high school sports teams, suggesting they will “destroy women’s sports.” The bill states based on studies that are not cited within the bill that “boys, on average, can be physically stronger than girls, having more skeletal muscle mass than girls and more upper-body and lower-body strength, which can result in injury to girls if girls participate in contact sports with boys(…)” 

The idea that transgender girls will dominate girls’ sports because they are physically larger and stronger comes from the idea that testosterone causes physical changes before puberty, such as an increase in muscle and bone growth. However, there are no significant biological differences between male and female children before puberty (which typically starts around 10-14 for girls and 12-16 for boys), while the Tennessee bill applies to middle school students, who are between 10 to 14 years old. 

In elite sports there are regulations to address hormonal differences in transgender athletes. The NCAA has a specific policy with respect to transgender athletes, that requires a specific period of hormonal transitioning prior to a transgender individual participating on college teams.

There are currently no reports of an outbreak of transgender girls dominating female sports. The vast majority of female athletes are cisgender, and as results show, the vast majority of winners are also cisgender. Trans women have never dominated any sport; leaving critics unclear what the bills are trying to change. In an interview with WebMD Joanna Harper, a sports physicist who has advised many sports bodies including the International Olympic Committee said  “There’s no indication that trans women are anywhere close to taking over women’s sport, it’s not happening now. It’s not likely to happen anytime in the future.”

Critics say these bills have a far greater negative impact than any potential positive effect. A joint statement of the United States Professional Association for Transgender Health and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health about bills barring transgender girls from sports highlights that “The preponderance of the evidence shows that young trans people are already at great risk of bullying, violence, and discrimination. The law will likely be used to further the personal attacks against them as well as other young people.” The statement goes on to state that if people want to protect girls participating in sports they will “find that the legislation will do the opposite. Instead, creating an environment where all girls’ bodies will be under scrutiny.”

Sports bans for transgender children are not the only type of anti-trans legislation before Republican legislatures. Other laws have been written to deny gender-affirming care to transgender youth, ranging from surgery to voice training and helps transgender people to fully transition. Critics say blocking such care puts marginalized youth in a dangerous situation, such as higher rates of mental illnesses, including suicidality. In an article by the Scientific American it was said that “Research highlights that a major driver of [high rates of anxiety, depression and suicide attempts] is rejection of someone’s gender identity. Forcing trans youth to play on sports teams that don’t match their identity will worsen these disparities.”

Medical, psychological and psychiatric associations agree that providing transgender children with gender-affirming healthcare is crucial to their mental health. In June of 2021, the American Medical Association (AMA) reinforced its opposition to restrictions on transgender medical care. AMA Board Member Michael Suk, specializing in Orthopedic Surgery, stated, “The AMA opposes the dangerous intrusion of government into the practice of medicine and the criminalization of health care decision-making. Gender-affirming care is medically necessary, evidence-based care that improves the physical and mental health of transgender and gender-diverse people.” 

In March, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) released a statement opposing actions in Texas, saying that “Recent state attacks on gender-affirming support (…) endanger the welfare of many young people across the country. These attacks undermine the right of parents and caregivers to access evidence-based and developmentally appropriate treatment.” 

Similarly, the American Academy of Pediatrics Chapter Forum Management Committee chair, Debbie Greenhouse said, “the majority of AAP leaders and experts believe that gender-affirming care is evidence-based, medically necessary care.”

Politicians supporting the bills characterize gender-affirming care differently. In a letter to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, Governor Abbott of Texas referred to such care as “child abuse” and advised the agency that Texas law imposes a duty on the department to “investigate the parents of a child who is subjected to these abusive gender-transitioning procedures.” 

In a statement, WPATH slammed the actions of Texas officials. “Targeting trans youth, their parents, and their health care providers for political gain is unconscionable. We strongly denounce this alarmist and misguided opinion which could obstruct access to medically necessary care.” Later in the statement WAPTH wrote about there being a “profound misunderstanding of the conditions under which transgender people live, and a profound lack of compassion for the need for responsible medical care that helps trans people (…) thrive and contribute to society.”

Some advocates are gearing up to tackle this issue head on. In an article with ABC news, Annise Parker, the president and CEO of LGBTQ advocacy group Victory Institute said this “When trans kids’ lives are on the line, playing defense doesn’t cut it. It’s time to play offense(…)”

Image credit: WikiMedia (Ted Eytan)

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