Republican lawmakers in more than a dozen states are proposing a number of bills that target transgender youth. In addition to bills like HB 1057, a South Dakota bill that would make it a misdemeanor for medical professionals to provide affirming health care to trans youth, which passed on Jan. 29, other recently proposed bills would force teachers and therapists to out trans youth to their parents. One physician told Bustle that the bills would put transgender young people in physical danger.
In South Dakota, SB 88, introduced on Jan. 28, requires counselors, school psychologists, or social workers employed by a school to report minor students to their parents if they express "feelings of gender dysphoria." And, South Dakota's SB 93, introduced the same day, allows parents to refuse medical treatments for a trans child.
HB 321 in Kentucky combines many elements of the recent South Dakota bills. It makes it a felony for medical professionals to provide affirming care to trans youth, allows parents to refuse any treatment for their child's gender dysphoria, requires government agents such as teachers to report a student's gender dysphoria to their parents, and forbids teachers from discouraging youth from coming out to their parents as trans, among other measures.
Experts Explain The Harm These Bills Could Cause
Dr. Jack Turban, resident physician in psychiatry at The Massachusetts General Hospital, where he researches trans youth mental health, tells Bustle that forcing a counselor to report a trans student to their parents could put the student in physical danger.
"For some children, it would be unsafe for a mental health professional to tell their parents about their gender dysphoria," Turban says. "If a mental health professional were forced to disclose a patient’s LGBTQ status to a parent, this child could potentially face physical violence at home or be kicked out of the house.”
Research has shown that family rejection of a child's gender identity is associated with a higher risk of suicidality and other mental health problems. “The more we as a field collect and analyze data, the more we come to a consistent conclusion: Affirmation is protective against mental health problems, and rejection or trying to change a child’s gender identity or sexual orientation is damaging,” Turban says.
Bills that make school counselors mandatory reporters on trans youths' identities could prevent them from seeking support. “Transgender youth who are aware of the bill will be less likely to speak openly with mental health professionals about what they are going through,” Turban says. As a result, the bill could make young trans people isolate themselves. “It would create a situation where young people are more afraid to reach out when they need help.”
"Health care professionals are already speaking up against this bill."
Transgender youth who don't know about the bill could also be outed without their consent. “This could lead to lasting mistrust toward mental health professionals and not seeking care in the future, which would subsequently lead to worsening mental health,” Turban says.
Chase Strangio, deputy director for Transgender Justice at the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project, tells Bustle the bills set a dangerous precedent. They "create a culture in which vulnerable young people have to worry about major intrusions into their privacy and where they are deterred from seeking support from trusted adults who are supposed to be in positions to counsel and support them."
He notes that under bills like South Dakota's or Kentucky's, a young person who even asks a mental health professional a question about their gender could be outed to an unsupportive parent, which could result in them facing homelessness, violence, or other life-threatening consequences. "Health care professionals are already speaking up against this bill because it runs counter to every best mental health and medical practice and jeopardizes the health of trans and questioning youth at a time when they are facing so many attacks,” he says.
The Bills Are Part Of A Wave Of Anti-Trans Legislation
South Dakota's and Kentucky's bills are only a few of the dozen that target trans youth across the country. In the last month, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and South Dakota have filed bills that would charge physicians with a crime, revoke their medical licenses, or professionally discipline them for providing affirming care to trans youth. Lawmakers in Missouri and New Hampshire have filed bills that would classify providing or helping a minor get gender-affirming care as child abuse. None of the bills have passed yet.
Some bills target trans youth in other ways. Arizona lawmakers have proposed HB 2706, which would ban trans students from playing on sports teams that match their gender identity. If a student's "sex" is "disputed," they would have to bring a signed physician's statement verifying the student's sex. Legislators have filed similar bills in New Hampshire, Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Tennessee, and Washington state, according to the ACLU.
Turban says the bills coming out in various states politicize young people's medical care. "Physicians are here to support young people and to set them up for happy successfully lives," he says. "They undergo extensive training to be able to do so. These laws would interfere with professionals’ ability to set these young people up to thrive.”