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Targeted by Politicians, Trans Youth Struggle With Growing Fear and Mental Health Concerns

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Charlie Apple outside his home in Corpus Christi, Texas. As a transgender teen, Charlie accepts that his future could include discrimination, verbal abuse, and even violence. Charlie came out as transgender when he was 13 and has testified repeatedly against anti-trans legislation. (Annie Rice/KHN)

This article originally appeared in Kaiser Health News.

Charlie Apple had experienced people calling into question his humanity, suggesting he was just a confused kid or even a moral aberration. As a transgender teen, he had accepted that his future could include discrimination, verbal abuse, and violence. The sense of peace he said he felt in transitioning physically, however, was worth the risk.

Still, it was especially painful last year, Apple said, when Texas lawmakers used the same sort of dehumanizing language he’d heard on the playground as they debated whether to deny trans kids everything from participation in sports to gender-affirming medical care.

“Seeing these people who are supposed to protect you, who are supposed to make laws to protect children, say all these horrible things and make it clear that you are not worth fighting for?” said Apple, 18, who testified with his parents against several anti-trans bills in Texas. “That’s a whole different thing.”

State legislators across the country introduced a record number of anti-transgender bills in 2021, many specifically targeting trans youth. Texas lawmakers proposed nearly 50 such bills, including an unsuccessful bill that could have sent parents to prison and placed their children in foster care if they approved gender-affirming treatments. In the first week of 2022 alone, legislators in at least seven states proposed bills targeting LGBTQ+ youth. On Feb. 3, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem signed a bill banning transgender girls and college-age women from playing on female sports teams. It becomes the 10th state to pass such a ban.

The debate isn’t limited to the United States. In 2020, three judges from the United Kingdom’s high court ruled against the use of puberty blockers for those 16 and younger, saying it was unlikely youth could give informed consent. The decision was overturned in September 2021.

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As health care providers continue to discuss best practices, the larger debate outside of medicine amid these legislative efforts to restrict access to care is having a detrimental impact on transgender youth, said Dr. Aron Janssen, vice chair of Lurie Children’s Hospital’s psychiatry and behavioral health department in Chicago.

“These are kids who are already quite vulnerable. We know that suicide rates among transgender youth are incredibly high,” Janssen said. “We would anticipate that legislative efforts that are created to reduce access to lifesaving care are going to have negative consequences.”

In a survey from the Trevor Project conducted last fall, 85% of LGBTQ+ youth reported that recent debates about anti-trans bills have negatively affected their mental health. In a survey conducted in 2020, the nonprofit that serves LGBTQ+ youth and focuses on crisis intervention found 42% of LGBTQ+ youth reported seriously considering suicide in the previous year, including more than half of transgender and non-binary youth.

“What I am concerned about is that something that is doing significant and documented harm to the health and well-being of LGBTQ youth is being seen as a highly effective political tactic and means of fundraising,” said Casey Pick, a senior fellow for advocacy and governmental affairs at the Trevor Project. “It scares me that LGBTQ youth are being sacrificed to a political process.”

In the past year, Pick said, the Trevor Project’s lifeline and digital crisis services had more than 200,000 calls, emails, and texts from across the country — about 14,500 of them coming from Texas.

Charlie Apple outside his home in Corpus Christi, Texas. (Annie Rice/KHN)

Mary Elizabeth Castle, a senior policy adviser for Texas Values, a faith-based advocacy organization that has worked to advance legislation banning gender-affirming care, said more bills are coming.

“Our position at Texas Values, and with our research, is that kids should not have access to any puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, or any gender transition surgeries,” she said. “A lot of these kids claiming they are going through gender dysphoria are dealing with the normal problems preteens face, just realizing themselves and finding their identity.”

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Numerous medical associations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the Pediatric Endocrine Society, and the American Psychiatric Association, have endorsed gender-affirming care.

The amped-up political heat has caused repercussions. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services removed from its website a resources page for LGBTQ+ youth that included information about suicide prevention and the Trevor Project hotline after criticism from a conservative Texas gubernatorial candidate. At least one Texas school district reportedly also blocked access to LGBTQ+ resources, such as the Trevor Project, but reinstated some of them after students protested.

Those pullbacks are especially concerning, said Pick, because LGBTQ+ kids are overrepresented in the child welfare system and are less likely than other children to have access to appropriate mental health and medical care or internet access outside of school or child welfare agencies. Compared with their peers, LGBTQ+ kids who have been in foster care also are more likely to report attempting suicide, according to the Trevor Project.

“Regardless of what they think about trans youth, and whether it’s real or not, you’d think they would want to prevent suicides,” said Laura Edwards-Leeper, an Oregon clinical psychologist who helped found a U.S. clinic offering assessment and medical interventions for transgender youth. “If they really cared about young people, they would be putting their energy into allocating more resources to areas that are lacking in the field.”

Edwards-Leeper has advocated for improved training for therapists and increased diligence in exploring mental health concerns beyond gender identity before a patient begins medical interventions such as puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones. But, she said, medical intervention is appropriate for some youth.

Charlie Apple holds a flag symbolizing transgender pride at his home in Corpus Christi, Texas. (Annie Rice/KHN)

“My feeling is that these things, especially the treatment of these kids, should not be left up to the courts or lawmakers,” said Edwards-Leeper. “It should really be in the hands of mental health and medical providers who are trained to do that work.”

Dr. Jason Rafferty, a Rhode Island pediatrician and psychologist who authored a 2018 American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement on supporting trans kids, said current political rhetoric and legislation are not grounded in science. Medical protocols for transgender people are not new, he said, adding that politicizing the delivery of medical care to transgender youth is both inappropriate and damaging.

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“By taking away books or banning websites, you can’t erase people’s experiences,” he said. “Kids are still feeling what they are feeling; they’re now just feeling more isolated and alone and won’t have those references to help normalize their feelings as part of the human experience. That’s scary when we’re talking about emotional and psychological health and development.”

In Tucson, Arizona, Lizette Trujillo, who has a 14-year-old transgender son, said she is well versed in overcoming societal barriers as the American-born daughter of Mexican immigrants. But when her son came out as transgender, she and her husband worried their child would be further marginalized.

Trujillo has learned how to locate safe businesses and neighborhoods for her son. Still, he has dealt with anti-trans slurs at school. And, she said, it is increasingly difficult.

“There is this exhaustion and this disappointment that we are still having these same conversations and these same fights over and over,” said Trujillo.

Ultimately, the legislation and surrounding discourse targets children, said Dr. Terrance Weeden, an adolescent medicine fellow at Lurie Children’s Hospital.

“This is just who these children, these youth, are,” said Weeden. “They did not wake up one morning and decide ‘Hey, I want to be part of this community that’s ostracized, looked down upon, made fun of, that’s isolated.’”

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(Annie Rice/KHN)

Despite concerns about the impact of future legislation and surrounding rhetoric on LGBTQ+ youth, Apple remains hopeful things can improve.

“I am a human being and I am also trans,” he told KHN. “I am a mosaic of experiences and identities, with joy and sorrow and happiness and love, just as you are. Seeing us as the multifaceted human beings that we are is the first step in fighting this.”

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

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Kelley Robinson to be first Black, queer woman to lead Human Rights Campaign

Robinson, who comes to the LGBTQ+ civil rights organization from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said her identities shape how she will approach the job.

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This story was originally published by The 19th

Kelley Robinson will be the new president of the Human Rights Campaign and the first Black, queer woman to lead the group, the organization announced Tuesday.

Robinson is a veteran organizer in progressive politics who comes to the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ civil rights organization from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, where she worked for three years as executive director. She takes the helm in the wake of the end of federal protections for abortion access and as states are considering and passing anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.

In an interview with The 19th ahead of the HRC’s announcement of her role, Robinson said that her many identities — as Black, queer, a woman, a mother and wife — shape how she will approach the job.

“My identities always remind me of that responsibility and help me to open the door for others,” Robinson said. “Just my being here is revolutionary. I also have a lot of privilege. I show up in the world as a cisgender woman. I have to make sure I’m creating space for others whose identity I don’t hold, to make sure they see that this movement for LGBTQ+ people is a space where all of us are seen, where all of us are celebrated, and we’re going to fight like hell to make sure all of us have the freedoms we deserve.”

Robinson is the latest Black woman and queer person tapped to head progressive organizations historically led by White people, including Laphonza Butler at Emily’s List, Alexis McGill Johnson at Planned Parenthood and Fatima Goss Graves at the National Women’s Law Center. 

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Robinson’s predecessor, Alphonso David, the organization’s first Black leader in its 40-year history, was one of several advocates who advised former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s team on sexual harassment allegations. The New York attorney general said in a report that David, a longtime aide to Cuomo before joining HRC, was one of several outside advisers who engaged in a “flurry of communication” to protect Cuomo.

In a span of weeks, the HRC conducted a review of David’s interactions with Cuomo, David and the board disputed the results of that review, and the organization announced its boards had decided to fire David.  

Asked whether she was concerned about these issues being resolved and how much of her new role would require repair and trust-building in the organization, Robinson did not address the issue directly, but said: “The progressive movement is in a space where we are really reckoning with not only ensuring that we are fighting for justice externally but also making sure that within the walls of our organization, staff, volunteers, activists, leaders are also experiencing that same sort of dignity and respect that we’re fighting for externally.”

Robinson said that HRC has done “an incredible job” of nurturing staff and building volunteer leadership to be ready for this moment, adding, “The crisis is so urgent that the only way to look is really forward in terms of what we’ve got to do next.”

A number of states have passed laws restricting the discussion of LGBTQ+ issues in schools, and some have also passed anti-trans bills about participation in athletics. And the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which based a federal right to abortion in a right to privacy guaranteed by the 14th Amendment, has raised some questions about whether a decision for marriage equality, based in that same right, is also vulnerable. The Senate has delayed a vote on a bill that would protect some aspects of marriage equality until after the November midterm elections.

The Human Rights Campaign has a mandate to ensure freedom and liberation for every LGBTQ+ person and to address the intersectional challenges of the moment, Robinson said. That looks like fighting for marriage equality and saving the lives of transgender people who are being murdered, working to ensure access to medical services from abortion to gender-affirming care, and pushing for dignity in workplace regardless of the industry, she said.

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“We’ve talked about intersectionality as a theory and now we’re applying it to our movement building work as truly the only way for us to survive,” Robinson said. “Our opposition is intersectional. They will say that they are coming after our ability to marry who we want, and at the same time, coming after our abortion rights, after immigration rights, climate justice and more. So we have got to have a more broad and powerful intersectional response.”

The 19th is an independent, nonprofit newsroom reporting at the intersection of gender, politics and policy.

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200K+ Transgender Citizens Could Face Barriers to Voting

Voter registration requirements and voter ID laws may present a challenge for transgender people who do not have accurate identification.

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Person dropping paper on box. (Element5 Digital/Pexels)

An estimated 878,300 transgender adults will be eligible to vote in the 2022 midterm elections, according to a new report by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. Approximately 203,700 of them could have problems voting at the polls because they do not have an ID that correctly reflects their name and/or gender. Approximately 64,800 of these transgender adults reside in states with the strictest forms of voter ID laws and could potentially be disenfranchised.

In the U.S., 35 states have voter ID laws that require people to provide some form of identification to vote. Eight states with the strictest voter ID laws—Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Wisconsin—require people to show a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license, U.S. passport, or military ID to vote using a regular ballot.

“The requirements for updating the name and gender on official IDs vary widely across states, and the process can be complex and costly,” said lead author Kathryn O’Neill, Policy Analyst at the Williams Institute. “Transgender voters who live in states that require an ID to vote may face scrutiny or be turned away at the polls.”

Transgender people of color, young adults, students, people with low incomes, those experiencing homelessness, and people with disabilities are more likely to not have accurate IDs for voting.

“Voter ID laws may create barriers to voting for substantial numbers of voting-eligible transgender people, which is particularly notable in elections that are decided by a few votes,” said co-author Jody L. Herman, Senior Scholar of Public Policy at the Williams Institute. “States should take steps to improve access to voting for transgender people by changing voter ID laws, making the process of obtaining accurate IDs simpler and more affordable, training poll workers, and reducing barriers to voting more broadly.”

Read the report 

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These companies publicly oppose anti-LGBTQ+ bills. Some fund lawmakers who sponsor them.

Lawmakers in 6 states with a high number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills received hundreds of thousands from major companies in the 2020 and 2022 election cycles.

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Ohio Valley Pride Parade. (Rosemary Ketchum/Pexels)

This story was originally published by The 19th

After signing a pledge opposing anti-LGBTQ+ state legislation last spring, companies like AT&T, Amazon, Pfizer, and CVS Health gave thousands of dollars to the campaign efforts of lawmakers who had been backing such bills, according to a recent analysis from Data for Progress, a left-leaning polling firm. 

Lawmakers in six states who wrote, signed or sponsored anti-LGBTQ+ legislation received tens of thousands and, in a few cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars, from major U.S. corporations in the 2020 and 2022 election cycles, Data for Progress found. 

Alabama, Florida, Arizona, Tennessee, Idaho and Texas have been prolific in their efforts to bar trans students from school sports, restrict gender-affirming care for minors and ban LGBTQ+ discussions from classrooms over the past few years. 

At least seven companies tracked by Data for Progress continued campaign donations for the 2022 election cycle to politicians backing anti-LGBTQ+ legislation after signing a pledge against such bills from the Human Rights Campaign and Freedom for All Americans. The pledge says the companies “are deeply concerned” about anti-LGBTQ+ bills and that they call for “public leaders to abandon or oppose” the legislation, but it did not explicitly address campaign donations.

Thirty companies that made campaign contributions were also official Pride sponsors in 2021 or 2022 for various cities across the country. Other companies, including General Motors, signed the pledge after making donations for the 2020 campaign cycle but have not given since then, according to the analysis, which goes through May. 

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Companies have long engaged in political spending that contradicts their public values while seeking to back other interests, such as favorable and unrelated legislation.  This discrepancy is can be particularly stark during Pride month. While the donations may not have been made with anti-LGBTQ+ bills in mind, the money carries extra weight in the states that Data for Progress studied, since lawmakers there have actually passed anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-trans legislation after introducing bills at a rapid pace, local and national LGBTQ+ advocates said. 

Among the six states studied by Data for Progress, Alabama had the highest number of anti-LGBTQ+ lawmakers receiving corporate campaign contributions. The state recently passed a felony ban on puberty-blocking medication or hormone treatment for transgender youth — one of the strictest bills limiting access to medical care. It was blocked last month by a federal judge.

Dillon Nettles, policy and advocacy director for the ACLU of Alabama, said the funding from companies that have publicly espoused support for LGBTQ+ rights is “deeply disappointing” — and shows an inconsistent commitment to supporting the community. 

“It seems really risky for companies at this point in time to be willing to backslide on that commitment knowing that this is a moment where the country is being more activated and galvanized by these attacks on trans rights, and even more broadly, LGBTQ+ rights,” he said.

Data for Progress’ analysis is also just a small snapshot of the larger campaign finance contributions that major companies have made to anti-LGBTQ+ lawmakers across the country. The newsletter Popular Information has tracked such spending for several years and has found that 25 companies eager to publicly celebrate Pride have donated $13 million since the start of last year to politicians backing anti-LGBTQ+ bills. 

The 19th reached out to 16 companies for comment regarding their campaign contributions to politicians who had backed anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. None responded except AT&T, which made the second-most donations of any company tracked by Data for Progress. (Toyota gave the most.)

When taking public positions on government policies, AT&T focuses on areas such as broadband access and expansion, spokesperson Alex Byers said in an emailed statement. 

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“Contributions to a particular lawmaker do not mean we support their views or actions on every issue,” he said. “We are mindful of diverse and complex societal issues that affect us, and we most immediately address these issues through direct social programs, philanthropy, employee benefits, and community involvement.”

None of the lawmakers named in this story returned requests for comment. 

Victoria Kirby York, deputy executive director of the LGBTQ+ advocacy organization National Black Justice Coalition, said that as anti-trans rhetoric among Republican lawmakers grows and more bills are actually making it into law, corporations that want to support LGBTQ+ people need to reevaluate their relationships with state politicians. 

“There’s definitely a cognitive dissonance in saying you’re about equality and discrimination protections and for racial justice and LGBTQ+ equity and all of the things, and then to give millions upon millions of dollars to people working to undermine and demolish those protections,” they said. 

In Data for Progress’ analysis, contributions to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s campaigns account for well over half of the total money spent on anti-LGBTQ politicians across these six states. He received just over $2.2 million, primarily from three companies based in Texas: Toyota, AT&T and Enterprise Products Partners, an oil and gas company, per Data for Progress’ count.  

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, the second-highest-funded politician the organization tracked, received $302,000 for her reelection efforts, the bulk of it coming from Southern Co., which oversees Alabama Power. Several of her recent campaign ads have specifically showcased her support for anti-trans bills. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton ranked third in campaign contributions at $192,000, with USAA and Farmers Insurance making the biggest donations.

In Texas, the state legislature held back-to-back special legislative sessions in 2021, with the last two specifically called to discuss anti-trans measures, among other bills. This year, Paxton issued an opinion labeling gender-affirming care as child abuse, and under Abbott’s order the state began investigations into families accessing gender-affirming care for their children. (The ACLU and Lambda Legal have filed another lawsuit to block state probes.)

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Following months of those legislative sessions, Toyota, a Pride sponsor for Los Angeles this year, contributed $150,000 to Abbott’s reelection efforts in December, Data for Progress found. AT&T, which signed the Human Rights Campaign and Freedom for All Americans pledge against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation last spring,gave $10,000 to Paxton’s campaign in February this year. 

To Adri Pérez, a policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas, the campaign funds are a clear signal that many corporations will put their own self-interests ahead of standing with LGBTQ+ people. 

While Pérez said companies need to be held accountable, they aren’t sure this is possible unless everyone makes a conscious choice to put that pressure on — including the LGBTQ+ groups platforming businesses that say they support LGBTQ+ rights. 

“Do they have to be held accountable? Yeah. Are they going to change their minds? I don’t know,” they said. 

Emmett Schelling, executive director of the Transgender Education Network of Texas, said that making a pledge to oppose anti-LGBTQ+ legislation while funding politicians who back these laws is ultimately meaningless. Advocates need meaningful help to get out of a “continued cycle of horrific moments,” he said, and to him that means going beyond publicly denouncing legislation after the fact. 

Companies need to commit to employ more trans people, to provide benefits for queer families, and to not funding elected officials targeting trans youth, he said — while consumers need to reject a lack of integrity from companies who publicly back LGBTQ+ rights. 

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“It’s not going to change overnight,” he said. “And at the end of the day, the people have the power to intervene in this.” 

Rachael Salisbury, vice president at a political research firm for progressive campaigns, who co-authored the Data for Progress analysis as a fellow for the organization, said she hopes that Pride organizations will use the data to screen companies that want to sponsor their events — and that companies will stop such donations. 

When companies sign pledges against anti-LGBTQ+ bills, including the pledge by HRC and Freedom for All Americans, “those are just pretty words at this point,” she said. 

“I want to give those leaders of those companies the benefit of the doubt, and hopefully they’re not being intentionally duplicitous, but even if it is just carelessness, we can’t tolerate that in our allies anymore,” Salisbury said. 

HRC and Freedom for All Americans said in emailed statements that working with companies on issues like political contributions or private lobbying, respectively, are key parts of their advocacy work for LGBTQ+ rights. 

“We encourage companies not to donate to anti-LGBTQ+ politicians, and to reckon with how damaging and harmful those donations are to the community, including their own LGBTQ+ employees,” HRC press secretary Aryn Fields said in a statement. 

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“Companies have a singular ability to gain audience with lawmakers across the political spectrum, and can help share both the human and business reasons that this kind of policymaking is at odds with corporate values, public opinion, and long-term competitiveness,” Freedom for All Americans communications VP Angela Dallara said in an emailed statement. 

On whether LGBTQ+ groups should ask companies for financial commitments when signing pledges against anti-LGBTQ+ bills, or if something should be done differently on such letters, Freedom for All Americans does not have a position, Dallara said. HRC declined to comment on what changes should be made to such pledges.

Disclosure: Pfizer, CVS Health, the Human Rights Campaign, and the chairman of Enterprise Product Partners, Randa Duncan Williams, have been financial supporters of The 19th. 

The 19th is an independent, nonprofit newsroom reporting at the intersection of gender, politics and policy.

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