Health Equity

Equity Matters: Politics, Healthcare & Inequity, Part 2 Healthcare and Transgender Youth

Vol. #24 November 2022

November 09, 2022

If you ask most parents about their hopes for their children’s future, you will hear variations of wanting them to be happy and healthy. Happy and healthy means something different to every young person. Yet, it begins with understanding who they are and who they want to be. When a young person feels their gender assigned at birth is not their true gender, they face questions about identity on a fundamental level.

In a national survey of LGBTQ youth conducted by the Trevor Project in 2022, 20% of transgender and non-binary youth attempted suicide in the past year and more than 50% considered suicide.[1] The data also showed that levels of anxiety and depression among transgender and non-binary youth are alarmingly high with 75% reporting anxiety and nearly 66% reporting symptoms of depression.[2] We know that support from family, school, peers and society makes a difference in how youth perceive their value and place in the world. This data makes it clear that young people, particularly those who identify as transgender and non-binary, need more help and support than they are receiving.

The same survey also found that laws passed and debates around policy issues weigh on youth. Ninety-three percent of transgender and non-binary youth reported feeling worried about transgender people being denied access to gender affirming medical care because of state or local laws and 91% worried about transgender people being denied access to the bathroom.[3]

Since January 2022, fifteen states have introduced a total of 25 bills that would restrict gender affirming care for youth. [4] This includes a law passed in Alabama, which makes it a felony crime, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, to “engage in or cause” gender affirming care.[5] This extreme law has been blocked while an appeal goes through the courts. But, even if it never takes effect, the message sent to youth is that adults in power believe that receiving evidence-based medical care that affirms their identity should be a crime. In contrast, Massachusetts recently passed policies that have added protections for gender affirming care. This is the result of education and advocacy from many groups and individuals. While state protections are extremely important and positive for youth living in our state, they are not enough to fully counter the national trends and hateful rhetoric that too often accompanies debates about gender affirming policies.

When adults decide to pass laws, or even debate policies, that take away the rights of another to access medical care or basic amenities, it has dire consequences. These consequences go well beyond the ability of youth to receive or even discuss gender-affirming care with their doctor. The fact that local and state elected officials, most of whom have no background in medicine, clinical mental health or youth development, are empowered to openly debate and pass laws dictating the type of medical and mental health care youth are permitted to receive should alarm us all. Those most negatively impacted are young people doing what all young people are encouraged to do- figure out who they are and find their place in the world. All youth deserve judgement-free, evidence-based medical care.

[1] 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Mental Health. Trevor Project. The Trevor Project: 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Dawson, L., Kates, J., Musumeci, M. (2022). Youth access to gender affirming care: The federal and state policy landscape. Kaiser Family Foundation. Youth Access to Gender Affirming Care: The Federal and State Policy Landscape | KFF

[5] Ibid.

For more Equity Matters, visit Foundation Publications.

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