Across the country, lawmakers are debating legislation that will directly impact transgender youth. What is missing in these discussions is a sobering reality: Studies show that 1 in every 3 trans youth report attempting suicide. The risk of trans youth committing suicide or abusing substances goes up even more when they are rejected by their families.
Sadly, it’s even more likely that trans and LGBTQ+ kids will face permanent repercussions from a lack of acceptance and support.
This is why supporting our young people is on the docket this legislative session. Rather than focus on the urgent need to support the health and well-being of trans youth, extreme voices are trying to derail our work with dangerous and inflammatory accusations. Republicans and right-wing talk show hosts have fired up their bases about Senate Bill 5599 by making false claims that it will allow kids to get gender transition surgery while stripping away parental rights.
It is easy to fall for misinformation when it is intentionally aimed at riling up emotions. So, let us set the record straight.
What this bill really does is ensure that young people have access to safe and supportive places when navigating complex times in their lives.
Shelters that serve runaway or homeless youth are required to inform families and the Department of Children, Youth and Families when a child comes into their care. That stays the same under SB 5599. What this bill does is create an exception to parental notifications for an additional compelling reasonlike when a child is seeking reproductive health care services or gender affirming care services.
Our hope is for every child to live in a safe and supportive home that is open to a conversation about necessary medical, behavioral, social and psychological care. But that is not always the case, so it’s crucial that we make sure there are supports available and that kids aren’t left vulnerable on the streets.
When this bill was first heard, testimony focused solely on gender-affirming care, which extremists paint as strictly surgical. To counter the transphobic vitriol, it’s important to first understand what gender-affirming care really is.
These health care services include a range of treatments that vary depending on age and can include actions as reversible as a haircut or social transition (ex: new pronouns, name change) for younger kids. Hateful rhetoric may lead you to believe it will permanently alter your adolescent child, but in most cases that will never be the case.
By contrast, gender-affirming health care practices have been shown to build self-esteem, lower rates of adverse mental health outcomes, and improve the overall quality of life for trans and gender diverse youth.
It is also critical that we make abundantly clear that the focus of this bill is not about taking away parental rights, but rather supporting young people who may be in unsafe environments. SB 5599 recognizes that our current system contains barriers to accessing shelter when some youth may need it most.
We understand many parents have fears and questions when it comes to the well-being of their kids. It is completely normal to have questions, but it’s not OK to use that fear to feed into harmful rhetoric that vilifies already vulnerable populations. Not every question has a straightforward answer, but one thing is clear: Children are people with complex emotions, feelings and thoughts. They deserve our respect and understanding.
Children — no matter their age, gender identity or background — are entitled to safe spaces where they have the freedom to express their true selves. Washington must clear the path to ensure success for every child.
A previous version of this Op-Ed inaccurately stated that SB 5599 would create an exception to parental notifications when a runaway child or homeless youth comes under the care of the state and shows signs of parental abuse or harm. The abuse or neglect exemption is current law and is unchanged by the bill. The bill does create an exception to parental notifications for an additional compelling reason such as when a child is seeking reproductive health care services or gender affirming care services.