*Updated as of 3/31/23
Over the past three years, more than 400 bills targeting the trans community have been introduced across the United States. These bills are part of the coordinated movement by conservative legislators to limit the rights of all transgender[i]people, and many of these discriminatory bills target transgender children specifically. As an organization dedicated to protecting children, CHILD USA stands firmly against all policies and laws that restrict the rights and freedoms of transgender youth. We proudly support the right of transgender children to grow and develop in supportive environments that affirm their gender identities.
What Are Some Examples of Anti-Trans Bills?
Lawmakers have found no shortage of ways to attack the rights of transgender children. Among the 400+ pieces of anti-trans legislation introduced in the last few years are bills to deny transgender children from using the bathrooms consistent with their gender identity, bills to criminalize healthcare for transgender youth, bills to ban transgender children from participating in sports or activities, bills to restrict public expression of gender identity, and bills allowing religious exemptions for anti-trans discrimination.
A proposed federal bill threatens to ban transgender children from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity. This bill would amend Title IX, and language in the bill specifically targets transgender girls. Idaho became the first state in 2020 to bar transgender students from competing in sports. Since then, 18 more states have passed laws that ban transgender youth from participating in school sports, most often in K-12 schools. In Utah, Indiana, West Virginia, and Idaho, enforcement of the bans is blocked due to temporary injunctions, pending judicial review.
Some of these bills require transgender girls to undergo hormone therapy as a prerequisite to participating on girls’ sports teams. At the core of this policy is the flawed argument that transgender girls have an unfair advantage over their cisgender[ii] peers due to supposed higher levels of testosterone. Proponents of compulsory testosterone suppression for transgender athletes believe that it levels the playing field between transgender and cisgender girls. These policies are not based in science and are discriminatory attacks on kids who cannot – or choose not to – undergo medical treatment.
Some discriminatory bills go so far as to literally redefine child abuse to include providing transgender children with gender-affirming healthcare. If bills like Wyoming SFO111, South Carolina H.3730, or Oklahoma SB129 become law, medical professionals, parents, and guardians of children who receive hormone therapy or puberty blockers could be charged with a felony and face up to 10 years in prison. Alabama has made it a felony for people to provide minors with gender affirming care, punishable by up to 10 years in prison or a fine up to $15,000. Nine additional states have laws that ban best practice medication and surgical care for transgender youth. Loving and supportive parents of a transgender child could face imprisonment or have their parental rights terminated for simply allowing their child to receive life-saving gender affirming healthcare.
Redefining child abuse to include gender-affirming healthcare is a disastrous policy that distracts from the real physical and sexual abuse of children. The best research finds that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 13 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18-years-old, and a 2012 report found that approximately 1/3 of the perpetrators of child sex abuse were family members of the victim. Rather than penalizing supportive parents of transgender children, legislators across the United States should focus on preventing child abuse and providing access to justice to the victims who have been denied justice due to the statute of limitations for child abuse.
Other pieces of anti-trans legislation currently being considered in the US would criminalize transgender children simply for living true to their gender identity. After Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed HB 1557 into law, at least a dozen stateshave proposed similar bills. Florida HB1557 bars public school teachers from holding classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity to young students, and DeSantis is seeking to expand this hateful policy to public high schools. Tennessee recently passed a bill that restricts drag performances in public spaces under the guise of “protecting children”, using vague language that could criminalize trans or gender non-conforming individuals for existing in public. Over 14 other states have proposed similar legislation, and in Florida, lawmakers are considering criminalizing parents for allowing their children to attend drag shows or other events. North Carolina became the first state to pass a bill barring children from using bathrooms consistent with their gender identity, and at least 6 other states have since passed equally harmful legislation, and 15 more states have proposed similar legislation. A transgender girl of elementary or high school age could spend months in jail simply for using the restroom consistent with her gender identity. These hateful policies punish children who bravely live true to their authentic selves.
What Are the Harmful Effects of Anti-Trans Legislation?
Current legislation is designed to render transgender children invisible by pushing them out of public life entirely. They are particularly dangerous because one’s experiences during childhood significantly impact their growth and development, and because transgender youth already face a number of heightened vulnerabilities.
Dylan Brandt spoke of his experience receiving gender-affirming care, describing the treatment as lifesaving. Before beginning hormone therapy, Brandt described struggling with anxiety and depression, feeling like he was trapped in a bad place. He said, “having access to care means I’m able to be myself, and be healthier and more confident—physically and mentally. The thought of having that wrenched away and going back to how I was before is devastating.”
Gavin Grimm sued after his high school refused to let him use the boys’ bathroom. He spoke of his experience, saying “I am glad that my years-long fight to have my school see me for who I am is over. Being forced to use the nurse’s room, a private bathroom, and the girl’s room was humiliating for me, and having to go to out-of-the-way bathrooms severely interfered with my education. Trans youth deserve to use the bathroom in peace without being humiliated and stigmatized by their own school boards and elected officials.”
Through anti-trans legislation, lawmakers are using their power to further marginalize transgender children to the outskirts of society. A nationally representative sample from the Human Rights Campaign found that while 68% of all youth currently play on a sports team, only 14% of transgender boys and 12% of transgender girls currently play on a sports team. Laws banning or limiting transgender girls in sports will make this already small percentage even smaller. As such, trans youth will be unable to reap the benefits of sport for development, including “increased self-esteem and self-confidence, improved academic performance, stronger feelings of school-based social support, and broader community connectedness.”[iii]Benefits like these are extremely important, especially for a population that already faces heightened vulnerabilities and increased risk of harassment, rejection, victimization, and discrimination.
In addition to the societal rejection from being banned from aspects of public life., anti-trans legislation could contribute to the rejection that transgender children face in their home environments. If parents believe the transphobia rampant in these pieces of legislation, it could contribute to them denying their child’s transgender identity or to rejecting them entirely. Tragically, a Williams Institute survey of 138 youth homelessness human service agency providers found that family rejection was the primary reason for transgender youth homelessness in 90% of cases.
Anti-trans legislation can also have disastrous effects on the mental health of transgender youth. Transgender children face higher risks of mental health issues – including anxiety, depression, and attention deficit disorders – than their non-trans peers. According to a paper published in the American Academy of Pediatrics on suicidal behavior among transgender adolescents, more than half of transgender male teens and 29.9% of transgender female teens reported attempting suicide. When transgender children have their rights restricted by our country’s lawmakers, their mental health problems may intensify as they internalize transphobia and come to believe that they are not as worthy of rights as their non-trans peers.
Such internalized transphobia could push transgender children towards suicidality or cause them to deny their identities and remain in the closet. This is harmful as research finds that LGBT individuals who are out of the closet have lower levels of stress, depression, and anxiety than closeted LGBT individuals. When trans kids are forced to hide their identity to play sports, to go to the bathroom, or to remain safe at home with their parents, it will inevitably have negative consequences on their emotional, physical, and mental well-being.
Instead of policing which bathrooms transgender kids use or their levels of testosterone, our country’s lawmakers should focus on remedying the many hardships trans kids face – including higher rates of harassment, bullying, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and homelessness than their cisgender peers. As advocates for child protection, we must stand against anti-trans policies and focus our attention on improving the lives of transgender children. We should celebrate our trans children who choose to live true to themselves, and work towards a world where it is safe for all transgender children to do so.
The Trevor Project: Visit www.thetrevorproject.org or call their hotline at 866-488-7386.
The Trans Life: Visit www.translifelife.org or call their hotline at 877-565-8860.
Definitions from the It Gets Better Project:
Transgender: Someone whose gender identity differs from the one that was assigned to them at birth. Many transgender people identify as either male or female, while others may see transgender as an umbrella term and identify as gender nonconforming or queer. How transgender people choose to express their gender is individualistic, as is their transition.
Cisgender: A person whose gender identity matches the gender they were assigned at birth.
Sex: At birth, infants are commonly assigned a sex. This is usually based on the appearance of their external anatomy, and is often confused with gender. However, a person’s sex is actually a combination of bodily characteristics including chromosomes, hormones, internal and external reproductive organs, and secondary sex characteristics. As a result, there are many more sexes than just the binary male and female, just as there are many more genders than just male and female.
Gender Identity: One’s internal, deeply held sense of gender. Some people identify completely with the gender they were assigned at birth (usually male or female), while others may identify with only a part of that gender, or not at all. Some people identify with another gender entirely. Unlike gender expression, gender identity is not visible to others.
[i] According to the It Gets Better Project, a transgender person is someone whose gender identity differs from the one that was assigned to them at birth. Many transgender people identify as either male or female, while others may see transgender as an umbrella term and identify as gender nonconforming or queer. How transgender people choose to express their gender is individualistic.
[ii] According to the It Gets Better Project, a cisgender person is someone whose gender identity matches the gender they were assigned at birth.
[iii] Goldberg, S. (2021, February 08). Fair Play: The Importance of Sports Participation for Transgender Youth. Retrieved February 18, 2021, from https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/lgbtq-rights/reports/2021/02/08/495502/fair-play/.