Transgender young people face a mental health crisis. Extremist politics makes it worse.

We all want what’s best for our children, who deserve a fair chance to grow up happy and healthy. While the details may look different for each family and every child, one resource is critical for all families: access to quality health care that meets their needs.

Amid the youth mental health crisis, which the American Academy of Pediatrics has declared a state of national emergency, it’s more important than ever that our leaders protect families’ right to health care and stop stripping parents of their rights.

But this fundamental right is quickly disappearing for families with children who are transgender. Across the country, extremist politicians are taking advantage of the public’s lack of familiarity with transgender people to create laws that give politicians more power to deny parents’ rights and meddle in their private decisions about essential health care specific to their children’s needs.

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Criminalizing doctors, targeting kids

Over the past few weeks, governors in Tennessee and Mississippi signed bans on best-practice health care for transgender people, while other bills banning care moved forward rapidly in the Georgia and Kentucky legislatures.

In Florida, which is already poised to implement a ban on care, politicians are now threatening to go further – a proposed bill would subject parents and providers to penalties or even take transgender children away from their loving and supportive parents. Many of these bills also aim to criminalize doctors for simply following best practice guidance.

The list goes on, with more than 110 politically motivated restrictions introduced this year alone.

Supporters of the trans community listen to speakers at a rally in support of trans rights in front of City Hall in downtown Memphis on Mar. 16, 2023.
Supporters of the trans community listen to speakers at a rally in support of trans rights in front of City Hall in downtown Memphis on Mar. 16, 2023.

Amid all these misinformed political attacks, you don’t have to be transgender – or even know what it means to be transgender – to understand that our children will suffer when they are singled out, bullied and told they don’t belong. They should be spending their time making friends, exploring extracurriculars and actually learning in school, not standing in front of lawmakers arguing that they deserve the same essential health care as everyone else.

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Transgender young people are already more likely than their peers who aren’t transgender to experience mental health challenges, including considering suicide. Research shows that nearly 1 in 5 transgender and nonbinary youth attempted suicide in the past year. And political restrictions are making this crisis even worse.

Polling from The Trevor Project found that even if legal restrictions aren’t implemented, the misinformation and dangerous rhetoric surrounding these political stunts still harm young people: 86% of transgender and nonbinary youth said debates around state laws targeting transgender people’s rights negatively impacted their mental health.

Anti-trans legislation isn't about 'family values': As a doctor, I know it costs lives.

On the other hand, studies have shown that when transgender adolescents are able to obtain the mental health care and medicines they need, their risk of suicide can drop, and they are also better positioned to report more positive mental health outcomes.

Gender-affirming care saves kids' lives

As leaders dedicated to ensuring young people’s health, we’ve seen firsthand how this care can be lifesaving for young people and utterly transformative for families searching for the best options to support and protect their children's health and well-being.

Every major U.S. medical and mental health organization, including the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, Federation of Pediatric Organizations and American Psychological Association, agrees with us and supports access to this best-practice care for transgender young people and adults.

Kellan E. Baker
Kellan E. Baker

If politicians cared about solving the mental health crisis, they would leave these decisions up to medical professionals and families, not push for blanket statewide bans. Personal decisions on health care that meets transgender people’s needs, just like all health care, should be made between patients, parents and doctors – not by politicians. Government overreach strips parents of their rights and goes against decades of scientific evidence and medical expert recommendations.

Now is the time to speak up and urge our representatives to do their job and protect quality health care for all families, including families with transgender children. Our government leaders are wasting time and resources on laws targeting a small percentage of transgender young people and need to stop playing political games with our health care.

We must tell our leaders to focus on improving health care for all families, such as making medicine more affordable or bringing new hospitals to rural areas.

Our country's mental health crisis demands an evidence-based approach that puts political games aside and puts the needs of families front and center. Every family deserves freedom, privacy and respect when they visit their pediatrician or another trusted provider to get the care they need to raise happy, healthy children, regardless of their gender.

Carrie Davis
Carrie Davis

Kellan E. Baker (he/him) is the executive director and chief learning officer of the Whitman-Walker Institute, a national leader in LGBTQI+ inclusive health care. Carrie Davis (she/her) is the chief community officer for The Trevor Project, the leading organization working to end suicide among LGBTQ+ young people.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trans kids face mental health crisis. Gender-affirming care holds hope