I’d like to finish a two-part column I wrote last month on transphobia. In that one, I wrote on the rhetoric of transphobia but didn’t spend a lot of time on the latest legal assault against queer people. I reserved that discussion of education bans, health care bans and the weaponization of child protective services for this column.
Starting with the first of these, what I mean by education bans are laws aimed at preventing the discussion of the existence of queer people, both now and in history. These laws claim to protect our students, but all they do is keep our youth ignorant about racism, sexism and transphobia. One bill which has received considerable media attention is Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill. It bars the “instruction” of gender identity and sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade and can lead to chilling consequences for discussing these concepts in the classroom. The fact is we need more discussion of gender science in the classroom, not less. I would argue that point is self-evident by the fact that lawmakers in favor of these sorts of restrictions, who spew pseudoscientific nonsense to justify their predetermined dismissal of trans people, are the ones needing education the most. Beyond the exact text of the bill, vagueness in bills like this one create a haunting effect. Since no teacher or school district wants to be hit with a lawsuit, it creates an incentive for them to shy away from these sorts of difficult or controversial discussions. Think about bans on critical race theory that define the theory so abstractly that practically any education on race could be cause for a lawsuit.
On to item two: health care bans. For many transgender and queer people, gender-affirming care is a deeply important and essential part of life. For example, one may take hormone replacement therapy or have surgery to feel more comfortable in one’s body. Adolescents might take doctor-prescribed puberty blockers to stunt one’s puberty, and the permanent effects they could have on the body allow that individual time to consider — with a doctor, of course — whether they may want to transition. Unlike puberty itself, puberty blockers are reversible, barring some side effects. Don’t take my word for it: the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Endocrine Society, among many other institutions, all support gender-affirming care and queer acceptance. Contrary to what some may say, gender-affirming care isn’t child abuse but essential health care.
Enter from stage right — the Idaho House of Representatives, which has recently passed a bill that would criminalize the providing of gender-affirming care for minors and makes it a felony to help a minor travel out of state to get gender-affirming care. Are any major medical institutions supporting this? No. Is any medical science supporting it? No. I could have cited numerous other bills banning gender-affirming care, including one in Arkansas which has been signed into law, but those laws miss the extra mile Idaho Republicans are going to in order to punish allies willing to help trans youth get the medical care necessary for their well-being out of state.
And now it’s time to return to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent directive. This order would instruct the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate any parent who provides gender-affirming medical care, which has been Orwellian-ly redefined as child abuse, to transgender youth. The directive is simply unconscionable, backed with absolutely no scientific justification and will certainly inflict psychological trauma on young, trans Texans. My heart breaks for families that will be irreparably destroyed. Parents are forced to defend themselves from accusations of child abuse for the crime of love and acceptance while children are forced to ponder whether their parents and doctors are secretly manipulating and mutilating them. My God, struggling to understand one’s identity as a trans person is hard enough. Trying to do that while the government targets what is most likely someone’s biggest support system is a kind of cruelty that I struggle to put into words.
I refuse to sugarcoat this abomination — actions like this will kill kids. More young people will commit suicide, and the blame will fall squarely with politicians like Gov. Abbott. A 2019 CDC report found that 43.9 percent of trans students considered attempting suicide within the past year, and 39.3 percent had made a suicide plan. Most disturbingly, 34.6 percent of trans students surveyed actually attempted suicide. Next time you’re in class, look to your left and right and consider how striking it would be for one of you three, a whole third of you, to attempt suicide. If that thought experiment makes you uncomfortable, just imagine the kind of excruciating pain and suffering that lead too many of our trans youth to give up, to end their life short, to kill themselves every day, every year.
We know that an inclusive education, gender-affirming care and supportive families are crucial to supporting the mental health of our trans youth. Weaponizing any part of that to score cheap political points and erect your political throne atop the mounting pile of dead bodies of trans kids in your wake is one of the most heartless acts of political theater I can conjure. We deserve — we need — better.
Eleanor Gully is a senior triple-majoring in French, economics and philosophy, politics and law.