Prof. Sangeeta Tyagi (Heller)
In recent months we have seen that what started out as a debate about bathroom use for transgender people has turned into a full-out attack on trans young people, with Republican legislators in 17 states introducing bills that limit medical access to gender-affirming care for young people and more than 20 states introducing bills related to transgender youth participation in sports. The Arkansas bill is the most recent and perhaps the most restrictive in regard to access to medical care. While Gov. Asa Hutchinson has vetoed the bill calling it a “vast government overreach” and a “product of the cultural war in America,” he is fully expecting his veto to be overturned by the legislator since only a simple majority is needed to do so.
While the bills themselves are troubling, the energy behind them speaks to a larger narrative in which the “other” is sought to be controlled, whether it is through the forced sterilization of women of color (Black, Native, immigrant); ever more draconian anti-abortion legislations that limit women’s right to make their own health decisions; lack of access to equitable health care and the related inequities in health outcomes for communities of color; or through state sponsored violence that shapes the daily experiences of communities of color. The through line that connects all of these efforts is the intersection of racism, sexism, homophobia and trans-phobia, xenophobia and discrimination against disabled people.
Instead of this cruel and exclusionary politicization of anti-trans agendas, a more affirmative approach to the health and well-being of trans youth would rely on science and a trauma-informed policy framework to create supportive policies that facilitate the overall healthy development of all young people.
Medical professionals, working with trans youth and their families, should chart the best course of action for young people’s physical and mental health and work to reduce problems related to gender dysphoria, depression and anxiety impacting trans youth. Young people with supportive doctors and families experience lower levels of anxiety and depression.
Additionally, trans youth are also subject to higher levels of violence, are overrepresented among the homeless and housing unstable population of young people and are more likely to be in and spend a longer amount of time in foster care. They are more likely to be bullied in school resulting in dropping out of school.
To create safe and healthy communities where all people are safe, attention needs to be paid to these structural issues impacting transgender communities. The Human Rights Campaign lists 2020 as the most violent year on record for transgender and gender non-conforming people. Action needs to be taken to stem the violence and to change the societal narrative that enable the many violent forms of marginalization of trans youth. Systems actors that engage with young people need to be trained in practices that support trans youth towards a more stable and caring pathway to adulthood with incentives directing systems towards more rather than less support.
Unless all young people are supported through their transition to adulthood with systems and policy makers that understand their needs and are set up to provide the necessary supports, we will lose a key societal resource – the energy and vitality of all young people as well as the strong and healthy communities that are at the foundation of a thriving society.
Sangeeta Tyagi is a senior social scientist at the Center for Youth and Communities, Chair of the MPP Women, Gender and Sexuality concentration and lectures in both the MBA and MPP programs.