March 24, 2023

The Despicable and Dangerous Assault on Trans People

Russ Feingold President

The concerted assault on transgender and gender diverse youth, while not new, has become more pervasive and crueler this year. In just the first few months of 2023, five states have already enacted laws banning gender-affirming healthcare for trans youth. The political forces behind these laws are using trans and nonbinary children as political pawns in their broader effort to thwart multiracial democracy, with zero regard for the devastating harm imposed.

This broader effort encompasses the many different attacks on the bodily autonomy, and free expression and social development of young people. In addition to assaults on gender-affirming healthcare, this includes laws that ban abortion for young people who have suffered rape or incest, ban school curricula that reflects the history and lived experience of students who are a part of historically marginalized and underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, and ban trans youth from participating on sports teams or using facilities that align with their gender identity.

Last week, we saw yet another installment of this cruel and perverse use of trans and nonbinary youth for political gain. Senate Bill 150, which passed the Kentucky Legislature, would prohibit medical and mental health professionals from providing a broad range of gender-affirming health care and would prohibit insurance companies and Medicaid from covering any care that falls under the broad definition of ”gender transition services.”

Many of the banned services would remain available to cisgender youth to address their medical needs. This underscores that the issue here is not with the medical care itself or even with the medical care being provided to young people, but with the notion of healthcare – or any service - being gender-affirming for trans and non-binary youth.

This bill and others like it operate by targeting doctors, opening them to the risk of losing their licenses and in some cases even criminal prosecution if they provide gender-affirming care to young trans or non-binary patients. Such prohibitions on gender-affirming health care run directly counter to medical ethics and best-practice standards of care. As with many OB-GYNs in states that are adopting anti-abortion laws in the wake of Dobbs, pediatricians treating transgender and gender diverse youth in states with such bans are faced with an awful choice: abandon their patients, break the law, or leave the practice of medicine or the state.

The Kentucky legislation would also prohibit young people from using “restrooms, locker rooms, or shower rooms that are ‘reserved for students of a different biological sex.’” Additionally, it would require educators and the Department of Juvenile Justice to misgender and deadname transgender and gender diverse youth. While the Governor of Kentucky may veto the legislation, the legislature has the votes to override.

Over the last few years, hundreds of bills targeting trans youth have been introduced in state legislatures. Even though only a small percentage have thus far become law, the relentless pursuit of these harmful and bigoted laws and their enactment in certain states still has a devastating impact. According to a poll conducted by the Trevor Project last year, more than 85 percent of trans and nonbinary youth said the laws negatively impacted their mental health.

Proponents of these measures claim to be motivated by concern for children, but all evidence points to the contrary. The medical evidence overwhelmingly shows that providing access to gender-affirming care results in better outcomes for young people, and that restricting such care increases rates of depression, suicide, and other self-harm. As a result, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and numerous other mainstream medical societies agree that gender-affirming care is medically necessary. If legislators really cared about transgender and gender diverse children, they would follow the science and the lead of the LGBTQ+ community.

Ultimately, these efforts are not about the children—at least not only the children. As advocates have warned, we are beginning to see legislation introduced and passed that would ban gender-affirming care for adults. Florida already bans hormone therapy for adults covered by Medicaid. A bill introduced in Oklahoma would ban gender-affirming health care for anyone under 26-years old. Bills in Virginia and South Carolina would ban gender-affirming surgery for anyone under 21. And Tennessee recently passed a drag show ban, versions of which have been introduced in numerous states, in an attempt to bar gender non-conforming expression in public.

This multifaceted assault on trans and nonbinary people is part of a broader, white supremacist power play. Part of the same political ploy, driven by the same political forces that fought so hard and so long to overturn Roe, that support voter suppression and gerrymandering, and that fearmonger about immigrants crossing our Southern border. Put together, it is an organized resistance to and assault on diverse, multiracial democracy. Political factions that want to retain white majority control in America are striving to not only antagonize diverse communities, but to marginalize and silence them. In this pursuit, trans and nonbinary youth are an easy target, as they generally have less power to push back and do not have the same access to microphones and the nation’s attention.

ACS is committed to helping secure the promise of a multiracial democracy and condemns the full range of dangerous, discriminatory laws meant to deny trans and nonbinary people dignity, respect, and safety. The law and the judiciary are on the frontlines of this modern struggle between multiracial democracy and white supremacist authoritarianism. We will continue to recruit and promote judicial candidates who are committed to vindicating fundamental freedoms and to support laws that advance lived equality in this country.

Equality and Liberty, LGBTQ Equality