Anti-Transgender Legislation Threatens the Health of Children

Originally published/distributed by Tribune News Service in April 2021

Growing up in Texas, I did not feel comfortable revealing that I identify as gay. In addition to experiencing homophobia all around me, I remember walking into my doctor’s office and realizing that I didn’t feel safe discussing my sexuality with the very person for whom my health was supposed to be a priority.

As a young person, I didn’t know if something so essential to who I am would result in rejection and discrimination if I shared it with my doctor. Today, I’m an openly gay pediatrician in Houston and I hope my patients are aware of that and feel comfortable with me, so that they don’t experience what I went through.

On Monday, the Texas Senate State Affairs Committee held its first hearing on SB 1646, which seeks to classify gender-affirming care for transgender children as child abuse, effectively denying access to care for one of the most vulnerable groups of children. This is just one of many pieces of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation being debated in several states right now.

I don’t personally identify as transgender, but as a sexual minority, I know what it feels like to be perceived as different, to be unwanted, and to feel the need to hide my identity from the world. Similarly, as a pediatrician I have seen the power that affirmation can have on the well-being of these children.

Neil Giles of Houston, a father of a non-binary child, spoke out at the Texas Capitol on Monday in opposition to the bill and others like it. He described the decision his family made in seeking care for their children: “It took us months to decide what was right to do, but without the help of medical professionals and the treatment that our child received, they could not have become the full and complete, authentic self they were meant to be.”

I became a pediatrician to advocate for children who don’t yet have a voice and specifically for those that have had experiences similar to mine, and I am calling on the Texas Legislature to reject this harmful bill and others like it.

Across the country, legislatures are considering similar bills that criminalize affirming, and potentially lifesaving, health care for transgender children. Most recently, in Arkansas, the legislature overrode the governor’s veto of that state’s version of SB 1646.

Barring legal action, this means it will soon be illegal for physicians in Arkansas to provide gender-affirming care to transgender children, including hormone therapy – all of which is evidence-based, no different than any other pediatric medical care. Through this bill, the Arkansas legislature has not only created an obstacle to essential care, but legislators have also sent a message to these children that their lives don’t matter.

Mississippi and Tennessee have passed bills that would bar transgender girls from participating on female sports teams. The American Civil Liberties Union reports that more than 30 states are considering similar bills that would limit transgender student sports participation.

This is in direct opposition of recommendations and policies created by the American Academy of Pediatrics to protect transgender and gender-diverse youth. For our children, we cannot let this happen anywhere.

We know that transgender children, in the absence of appropriate medical care, are at higher risk than the general population to suffer from mental illness and to attempt suicide. Discrimination and bias are driving factors for this. But alleviation of this discrimination and bias in health care are protective. Children and youth are coming out at younger ages and need support and understanding.

The Texas Legislature and other legislatures and general assemblies across the country should be considering measures to protect, not harm, them.

I know what it feels like to be unwanted by society and to fear rejection when seeking help from health care providers. I can only imagine what our transgender and gender-nonconforming children feel knowing that many people in Texas want to push them further into the dark, further away from a full and healthy life. Our children need us to stand up for them and to tell our stories, so that they know that their lives are just as important.

Let your elected representatives know how you feel about these harmful bills. I wish there had been a pediatrician there for me as a child, but I and other pediatricians and medical professionals can be that voice for these children now.

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