*slight trigger warning for mentions of suicide*
By: Evelyn Amparo and Ashlyn Bi July 27, 2023
The month of June in many countries around the world is recognized as “Pride Month”, essentially being a celebration and commemoration of LGBTQIA+ individuals. While Pride Month celebrates and honors these individuals, it has also turned into a month of high controversy regarding the social climate around conversations of gender and sexuality. The United States and many other countries have a long history of erasing and persecuting people for identifying as anything other than the “typical” gender and veering away from sexual norms, especially in reference to the religious roots of the United States. American culture has always had a stigma against individuals who are different in any way, however, gender and sexuality have been brought to the forefront in the last century as the limitations of what we value as “equality” to be. Because of these questions and concerns on what the new “normal” is, many states in America have decided to abolish the issue completely and have passed various bills banning gender-affirming care for minors as well as limiting the resources available to transgender and non-binary adults.
Gender-affirming care is a form of healthcare that consists of services that vary from medical and surgical care to mental and emotional care, ultimately aiming toward supporting transgender and non-binary individuals in feeling comfortable with their gender identity. It is essential that teenagers and young adults have access to gender-affirming care. Sense of identity and self-exploration are pillars of the emotional well-being of all individuals. By feeling comfortable in one’s skin at an early age, a stronger psyche regarding identity in adulthood can be achieved, which positively impacts mental and emotional health. In fact, The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQIA+ people, has found that when social, medical, and legal gender-affirming care is offered, suicide rates among young adults have drastically reduced by about 60%. Even the consistent usage of a name chosen by a non-binary or transgender adolescent has resulted in a 29% decrease in suicidal ideation as well as a 56% decrease in suicidal behavior. This is especially significant since 54% of transgender and non-binary individuals have reported seriously considering the possibility of suicide in the last year.
The concept of gender-affirming care in the United States has been regarded as controversial since the official coining of the term “transvestite” in 1918. However, it has become significantly more controversial since the rise of counterculture movements and the Stonewall Riots of 1969 in New York, a series of riots started by queer individuals against police brutality. Religious interpretations have also been utilized as a foundation for LGBTQIA+ opposition. Most notably, Christianity contains the largest group of followers that consider homosexuality a sin. Although debates have sparked about whether the Bible specifies this statement, these viewpoints have frequently been used to justify homophobia and transphobia. The justifications for transphobia are typically due to early writings in Genisis clearly outlining that God created “male and female” as well as Deuteronomy 22:5 stating, “A woman shall not wear a man’s apparel, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment; for whoever does such things is abhorrent to the Lord your God.” However, just as gender identity and expression are unique to each individual, society does not exist under a single religion. Therefore, many religious arguments are truly personal beliefs entering conversations that should be approached with impartiality.
As of June 2023 in the United States, gender-affirming care has been restricted in 18 states, the most recent being Florida. On May 17, 2023, Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law in Florida that not only bans gender-affirming care for transgender youth but also establishes a “bathroom bill.” This bill requires all restrooms or locker rooms at public facilities to be used exclusively by individuals based on their assigned gender at birth. To clarify the concept of “gender assigned at birth,” the bill clearly defines a female as “a person belonging, at birth, to the biological sex which has the specific reproductive role of producing eggs” and a male as “a person belonging, at birth, to the biological sex which has the specific reproductive role of producing sperm.” These claims essentially ignore the emotional and mental aspects of identifying anywhere on the gender spectrum, contributing greatly to gender dysphoria. According to the Mayo Clinic, “gender dysphoria is the feeling of discomfort or distress that might occur in people whose gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth or sex-related physical characteristics.” It often leads to high levels of anxiety and depression, which is a prime factor in the suicide rates and mental health struggles that were previously mentioned. DeSantis further explained the gender-affirming care bill as “permanently outlaw[ing] the mutilation of minors,” with “mutilation” referencing the various surgeries and hormonal adjustments that are part of the medical aspect of gender-affirming care. DeSantis added that “they’re trying to do sex change operations on minors.” But this doesn’t take into account the various forms of therapy, counseling, and a formal diagnosis of gender dysmorphia before surgical treatments. Furthermore, parental consent is legally required before performing healthcare services on a minor, which initiates the concern Florida legislation has towards parents' treatment of transgender or non-binary youth. One potential repercussion for parents that choose to disregard the bill enacted in Florida is that their children could be forcibly removed from their homes. This essentially exhibits gender-affirming care as a case of child abuse in the state and those in violation of the bill also could face criminal charges of a third-degree felony crime, which is punishable by up to 5 years in Florida.
Many citizens of Florida have expressed anger and distaste toward this law. Specifically, three families with transgender children viewed these bills banning gender-affirming care as unconstitutional and decided to sue the state of Florida. In the courtroom, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle heard arguments from these parents, stating that the bills strip away their rights to make medical decisions for their children. Consequently, in response to the constitutional violation of equal protection and the purposeful discrimination against transgender individuals, Hinkle has temporarily blocked both the “bathroom bill” and the gender-affirming care bill. But, this temporary block on the bans only applies to the children and families that are involved with the lawsuit as they are immediately seeking access to care and have taken the matter to court. For similar scenarios of attempting to bypass the bans, other parents would also have to sue the state of Florida. While Hinkle’s momentary ban has a minor impact on the majority of the transgender community, Hinkle maintains that the court case “sends a really, really clear message that what the state has done here is politically motivated, predetermined, and unconstitutional.” Judge Robert Hinkle has also taken a clear stance that “gender identity is real,” and he “find[s] that the plaintiffs’ motivation is love for their children and the desire to achieve the best possible treatment for them.”
Although gender-affirming care is relatively new and is still expanding, there are already proven mental and emotional benefits to receiving various forms of gender-affirming care. A study conducted by Harvard has found that gender-affirming surgeries were associated with a “42% reduction in physiological distress and a 44% reduction in suicidal ideation [...]” This essentially confirms that gender-affirming care can lead to a higher likelihood of transgender and non-binary individuals having a more comfortable and longer life. Furthermore, this allows for there to be a new generation of transgender and non-binary individuals to pave the way for normalizing and destigmatizing the conversations around gender and sexual identity, creating a more open-minded future in America.
(cover photo) https://unsplash.com/photos/f3avUuzMi2U