Editor's note: this piece was originally published 05/10/2021 and was updated 06/13/2022.
Last year, my 15-year-old daughter, Eva, adopted at birth, was thrilled to discover through DNA testing that she had four biological siblings in Arkansas. Her siblings talked about all of the cool things they will do together when she visits them -- fishing, hiking, river swimming, frog racing, and attending a crawfish boil.
Unfortunately, that visit won’t be happening any time soon. Arkansas recently passed two anti-transgender laws that make it unsafe for her to go there. The first bill, signed in March 2021, allows medical workers, institutions, and insurers to discriminate against LGBTQ+ individuals, and trans individuals in particular, by denying them gender-related medical care if doing so goes against the providers’ moral, ethical or religious beliefs.
The Arkansas legislature went a step further by overriding Governor Asa Hutchinson’s veto of HB 1570 in April 2021. It will soon be a crime in Arkansas for medical professionals to provide or even refer transgender minors for any type of gender-affirming health care. If Eva had a problem with her blockers or hormone treatments, medical professionals who treated her would risk losing their license and face fines or even imprisonment. [Editor's Note: HB 1570 was set to take effect on July 28, 2021, but a district court judge temporarily blocked the bill following a lawsuit led by the American Civil Liberties Union. The case challenging HB 1570, Brandt v. Rutledge, is currently pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. The court is expected to hear arguments to revive the law on June 15, 2022.]
In neighboring Texas, conservative lawmakers have proposed legislation that could charge parents who support their transgender children with felony child abuse, punishable by both fines and imprisonment.
Even in our own state of Connecticut, Republican lawmakers introduced a sports ban to prevent female trans athletes from competing. Fortunately, this legislation did not pass. The ACLU has debunked the charge that trans athletes have an unfair advantage in sports.
So far this year, dozens of state legislatures have introduced more than 100 bills that target the transgender community. This campaign is being promoted by a group of right-wing religious organizations, including the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Family Policy Institute, and The Heritage Foundation, who use the website Promise to America’s Children, to provide lawmakers with boilerplate templates of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation ready to download and propose.
When bathroom bills portraying transgender individuals as a menace to society failed to gain traction, the anti-trans movement devised this new strategy under the guise of “concern” for the well-being of transgender youth. They claim that they are “protecting” minors from child abuse by labeling any type of gender-affirming care and treatment as “experimentation.” Nothing could be further from the truth.
Medical experts agree that gender-affirming care can be life saving for transgender youth like Eva, who has been on blockers since age 9 and hormones since age 14. This position, which truly protects these youth, has the endorsement of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the American Medical Association, as well as many other medical organizations.
What has become a political flashpoint in America’s culture war is, for vulnerable trans youth, a matter of life and death. Eva attempted suicide at age 6, and she is not alone. According to the CDC's 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, “one in three transgender youth reported attempting suicide, almost one-third reported being a victim of sexual violence, and more than half reported a two-week period of depression.” The Trevor Project’s 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Mental Health reports that “48% of LGBTQ+ youth reported engaging in self-harm in the past twelve months, including over 60% of transgender and nonbinary youth.”
What gives me hope is that the majority of Americans support trans rights. In April 2021, PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll found that two-thirds of Americans oppose laws that would limit transgender rights, with approximately 63% of adults (including 80% of adults under 40) supporting the Equality Act, which would create federal nondiscrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. This support is not limited to the general public. More than 90 major U.S. corporations have objected to the latest anti-transgender legislative onslaught. After nearly 550 college athletes stood up to anti-transgender legislation by demanding the urged the NCAA to pull championships from states with anti-trans sports legislation, the NCAA said that it will only select host locations that can provide environments free of discrimination.
Like many other parents of trans children, my family has fought for our child’s well-being and legal rights at every level. Along the way, we have found allies in this struggle, particularly in our Reform congregation, which has been an emotional oasis for Eva. She has blown the shofar on the High Holidays since she was 8 and for her tenth birthday gift requested a shofar. She helped initiate and organize the congregation’s annual Pride service.
You can help us by contacting your religious leaders, legislators, and businesses and asking them to stand up against this cynical campaign that seeks to sacrifice my child on the altar of political opportunism. You can also urge the Senate to pass the Equality Act to protect LGBTQ+ people no matter where they live.
Meanwhile, Eva dreams of a time when she feels safe enough to finally travel to Arkansas to meet her siblings.
Editor's Note: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that emergency responders could refuse care under the newly-passed Arkansas laws. Denying emergency medical care is illegal under Arkansas and U.S. federal law. We regret this error.