Senate lawmakers voted in favor of the bill 28-7. The bill, titled the “Arkansas Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act” is now headed to Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s desk. If Hutchinson’s name sounds familiar as of late, it might be because he recently signed an anti-trans sports bill into law. He has not yet, however, commented on whether he supports this specific bill or not. That’s part of why it’s incredibly important for people to mobilize in support of transgender folks now, while there is still time for him to veto the bill.
What sort of arguments are people who support this legislation pushing? A faux, misguided belief that denying people gender-affirming care helps or protects them. For example, The Washington Post reports that on Monday, Republican state Sen. Alan Clark mischaracterized gender-affirming health care as “experimental” at best and a “serious threat to a child’s welfare” at worst. He said that while his heart “goes out” to concerned parents, gender-affirming health care is not the answer. Of course, gender-affirming health care from a physician is the exact answer.
Some also incorrectly characterize being transgender as a choice. For example, during a House session before passing the bill, CNN reports that Republican state Rep. Robin Lundstrum said in reference to transgender youth that “Some of them may choose to be transgender when they’re older. That’s okay, that’s their choice.” She said that people under 18 “need to grow up first.”
Mind you, transgender youth disproportionately experience bullying, harassment, and assault compared to their cisgender peers. They are more likely to leave school without a diploma and experience homelessness. As adults, they are more likely to face job and housing discrimination. They are also more likely to experience suicidal ideation and some mental health struggles, like anxiety and depression. The idea that people need to “grow up” when it comes to identity is not only deeply patronizing but also deeply dangerous when it comes to delaying gender-affirming care.
This concern is a real one for physicians, too. As reported by local outlet KARK, Arkansas pediatrician Dr. Natalie Burr said that part of her job as a general pediatrician is to “coordinate care.” She continued she never imagined it “could one day be illegal for me to refer one of my patients to appropriate care.”
“I’ve heard from local colleagues that just since this bill passed in the House of Representatives there’s been an increase in ER visits for suicidal ideation and attempts in our transgender patients,” Burr stated.
Mind you, gender-affirming health care at some ages can be as simple (but important and fundamental) as a doctor affirming a child and encouraging parents to use the child’s pronouns and name. While some Republicans are eager to ramp up hysteria and make it seem as though gender-affirming health care happens with an arbitrary snap of the fingers, that is simply not reality. There’s also the reality that some care, like puberty blockers, is reversible should a person want it to be.
Thankfully, some advocates and supporters did speak on behalf of transgender youth during Monday’s hearing. For example, American Academy of Pediatrics president Lee Beers summed up the two main ways the bill is harmful, saying, “One, it threatens the health and well-being of transgender youth, and two, it puts politicians rather than pediatricians in charge of a child’s medical care.”
As Daily Kos has covered in the past, it’s hard enough for transgender folks to receive adequate and appropriate health care as it is, even if that care has nothing to do with gender-affirmation. As 16-year-old Stella Keating, an openly transgender high schooler, stressed when she recently spoke on behalf of her transgender peers, trans youth are just like everyone else—they want to fit in, have fun, make friends, learn, and grow.
Republicans are trying to stir up hysteria to make trans equality today’s battleground issue, when in fact, health decisions are deeply personal, and playing on a sports team that aligns with your gender identity simply makes sense. Instead of focusing on the actual big issue of today (namely, the coronavirus pandemic), Republicans are reaching for any chance to distract—and are willing to dehumanize and exclude transgender folks in the process.
Here are five free mental health resources if you or someone you know is struggling. Here are some tips on how to be an effective ally in general, as well as specifically for the transgender community.