“I just don’t understand why they are so mean.”
Those were the words Lizette Trujillo heard from her son Daniel, who came home from school one day when he was 8, agitated because a young classmate was being bullied.
Trujillo seized the opportunity for a life lesson about empathy versus sympathy.
But Daniel, who is transgender, responded like a wise soul: “Mom, I think God made me this way on purpose: so I can be empathetic and learn empathy.”
Seven years later, Trujillo still carries that moment close at hand in a time of raging clamor from conservative quarters over rights of transgender and non-binary youth — even for something as basic as healthcare.
“What we lack in this world,” Trujillo said, “is empathy.”
Transgender Awareness Week puts healthcare in the spotlight
For the 1.6 million transgender people in the U.S, Transgender Awareness Week that began Sunday, raises community visibility — and focuses on issues facing transgender people. Gender-affirming care for young people topped that list.
By 2022, at least 15 states have restricted access to gender-affirming care or are considering laws that would do so, according to the Williams Institute. Some bills include penalties for health care providers and even families.
A rule approved by Florida’s medical boards this monthat the urging of GOP government Ron DeSantis, would ban transgender people under the age of 18 from receiving hormones or undergoing surgery as a treatment for gender dysphoria.
Last Spring, Trujillo’s Home State of Arizona limited access to gender-affirming care for minors. The bias Daniel, now 15, faces “is because his state legislators are trying to take him out of the state and out of existence through their policies,” she said.
“So many stories are being told around” gender-affirming health care, she said. “What’s not being told is why this is up for debate on such a large scale.”
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“How do you discuss the lives of happy children?”
Lawmakers introducing bills targeting youth do not represent the majority of the country, said Jen Grosshandler, co-founder and executive director of the GenderCool Project, a youth-led group working to replace misinformed opinions with real-life experiences of transgender and non-binary youth. Most people don’t want to interfere in the parenting of others, especially when it comes to a child’s physical and mental well-being, she said.
“Should trans children be able to receive care or not? Most people in the US don’t care about this conversation,” Grosshandler said. “So why in the world is this conversation happening at all?”
Lawmakers are using their political power to “fog nonsense about families raising good, solid children,” she said. “It’s not a debate. How do you discuss the lives of children who are happy, do well in school, volunteer in their community, learn multiple musical instruments, go to college and build a great life?”
Trujillo says some lawmakers “don’t care about our children’s health care. They’re trying to make this a wedge issue to win elections.”
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What does gender affirming care look like?
Gender affirmative care is a term for medical care that is “highly individualized,” said Dr. Kellan Baker, executive director of the Whitman-Walker Institute. “There is no set way to go through gender affirmation. Everyone’s needs are different.”
There may be social transitions, such as changing a haircut, using different pronouns or wearing different clothes, he said. Medical care, including hormone therapy, can be crucial, he said. Puberty-slowing drugs, which are reversible, Baker said, give young people time to discover their identity “without a ticking clock.”
Proponents of bills to limit care often say they save young people from regret later in life. Baker says, “The whole point is to avoid regrets by giving them time. Not doing that is extremely cruel.”
Major medical associations – from the American Medical Association to the American Psychiatric Association – agree, stand in line in support of gender-affirming care and against bills criminalizing it in recent years.
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The mental health toll of restricting or banning care is great
For young people who already feel vulnerable, even talking about harmful bills on a physical level can be harmful, Baker said, raising stress levels, straining cardiovascular systems and triggering inflammatory responses.
And the mental toll is heavy: “You see people in power in society literally talking about whether you deserve access to the basic building blocks of who you’re trying to become,” he said.
Gender affirmative care is “not provided on a whim, as is sometimes portrayed,” said Kasey Suffredini, vice president of advocacy and government affairs for the United States. Trevor Projectwhich provides crisis and suicide prevention services for LGBTQ people under 25.
Withholding care is “dangerous” in many ways, he said, pointing to higher rates of depression, anxiety and even suicidal thoughts.
Statistics confirm those concerns in recent Trevor Project polls:
• 93% of transgender and non-binary youth said they were concerned about transgender people being denied access to gender-affirming care due to state or local laws.
• 85% of trans and non-binary youth say recent debates about state laws limiting their rights have negatively impacted their mental health.
• Proposed Bills That Would Ban Doctors of prescribing gender-affirming medical care, 73% of transgender and non-binary youth are angry, 57% sad, 47% stressed, 40% afraid.
“This is a time when we need to slow down and use a little more common sense,” Suffredini said. “Medical decisions are better made by doctors, not politicians. Healthcare is well established and supported.”
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Transgender children thrive in their community
Daniela high school freshman, is one of GenderCool’s 20 “champions” — faces of a movement that illustrates how trans and non-binary youth continue to thrive.
He plays drums and guitar, loves Minecraft, makes stop-motion movies, and “loves to build things and tell stories,” Trujillo said. “My child is very thoughtful, kind and funny.”
in Sept, California Governor Gavin Newsom Signs Legislation provide legal shelter for transgender youth fleeing harmful bills in conservative states, such as those that prohibit or restrict medical care.
“I often tell people who ask ‘why don’t we just move’ that it’s not normal in the United States of America for a family to flee to a safer state,” Trujillo said.
Daniel lives “a full life and is loved and affirmed,” she said. “We would lose more than we would gain if we had to leave” Arizona.
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Grosshandler is the mother of four children, including: chazzie16, ‘a happy, kind and confident kid and leader in our city and community’ who ‘happens to be trans’.
The family is fortunate to live in a state, Illinois, where elected officials believe in basic human rights, she said. They all eat together several times a week, Grosshandler said, and conversations often revolve around the importance of kindness and navigating life in ways that help people not get hurt.
“We’re talking about these angry people” behind bills targeting transgender youth, she said. “What does their dining table look like?”