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Crime log: Subject barred after shoplifting at bookstore
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 26, 2024

Essay: Transgender youth face legislation, media attacks that oppose their existence

Editor’s note: This post contains references to suicide and mental health issues. If you or someone you know has experienced suicidal ideation, call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or reach the Student Health Center at 202-994-5300 and ask to speak to a counselor. You can also call the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 for trans peer support, and LGBTQ+ youth can get support from the Trevor Project by calling 866-488-7386. If you have any questions about the reporting behind the story, please contact the editor at [email protected].

I was relieved when my then 17-year-old sibling, Sky, came out to me last summer as transgender and nonbinary – after years of feeling uncertain about their gender expression, Sky finally felt like themself.

Assigned female at birth, Sky told me they knew on some level that they weren’t a woman since the fourth grade – they just didn’t have the words to describe their emotions. Now, they know that feeling is called gender dysphoria, an unease caused by a misalignment between someone’s biological sex and gender identity.

Sometimes they wore dresses and skirts – other times, our brother’s lacrosse shorts and backward baseball caps. They played Barbies with me and also chased my brothers around our backyard. They repeatedly struggled to conform to society’s expectations of gender identity. “It was a lot of overcorrection on both sides because I didn’t understand what I was feeling,” Sky explained to me over the phone.

When they started questioning their sexuality last summer, they also questioned their gender presentation. A couple of months after coming out as bisexual, Sky embraced their nonbinary identity – they no longer identify as a woman just because society more readily accepts cisgender people. “I just exist as a person, not necessarily a woman,” Sky told me over FaceTime. To both me and themself, they are simply Sky, and that will always be enough.

As Sky’s older sister and a human being, I have been outraged by the deluge of transphobic laws across the nation and the demonization of transgender people in right-wing media. I am afraid and frustrated at the thought of Sky growing into adulthood with a social climate fighting against who they are.

Since this past summer, at least 11 states – Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Utah, South Dakota and West Virginia – have enacted laws limiting or banning gender-affirming care for minors, according to Axios. Conservative Christian groups, many of whom fought to push the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, have lobbied local lawmakers and spent millions of dollars to help pass these and other bills that would strip transgender people of their rights.

In Kentucky, the state’s Republican-dominated legislature voted Wednesday to override Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto of Senate Bill 150, a bill that restricts what bathrooms transgender youth can freely use in public schools and bars class discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill also prevents the Kentucky Board of Education or the Kentucky Department of Education from requiring or recommending teachers to use their students’ preferred pronouns, names and identities. My high school in West Chester, Pennsylvania was the first public place my sibling started going by gender-neutral pronouns, and Sky has said that their teachers’ compassion helped ease their transition. Giving teachers free rein to “deadname” students – using their incorrect name or pronouns – will only tear them down.

Kentucky isn’t just making it harder to be a transgender youth in school. Unless organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union successfully sue to stop the law, Kentucky will join at least 10 other states in denying or restricting transgender youth access to gender-affirming health care like surgery, puberty blockers and hormone therapy. These restrictions on health care are set to begin 90 days after Kentucky’s legislature adjourned Thursday. But other sections of the bill have already gone into effect immediately, including those that allow teachers to misgender students, restrict education about human sexuality and institute bathroom bans.

The lack of proper health care for and the social stigmatization of transgender people obstructs trans teenagers from existing as themselves. These bills are not just signs of hate – they are precursors to harm. When I called Sky earlier this week about the risk of denying people gender-affirming health care, they looked at me and said one word, “suicide.” In Kentucky, 59 percent of transgender and nonbinary youth seriously considered suicide, and 24 percent of transgender and nonbinary youth attempted suicide between 2021 and 2022, according to The Trevor Project, an American nonprofit organization focused on preventing suicide among LGBTQ+ youth.

Right-wing media smear campaigns and moral panics against transgender people have only worsened the life-and-death issues facing trans youth. Conservative personalities and politicians have pushed their transphobic agendas in response to the shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee last Monday, where a shooter who police said identifies as transgender killed six people including three children.

Fox News host and professional bigot Tucker Carlson used the shooting, which took place at a private Christian school, to wrongly malign transgender people as being anti-Christian. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., focused on attacking transgender people after the shooting instead of addressing the country’s lax gun laws. And other rhetoric about transgender and nonbinary people has been downright genocidal, threatening the very idea that their identities deserve to exist.

Our politicians and media are failing to stand alongside transgender people, especially after International Transgender Day of Visibility Friday. “I just want to exist as myself, ” Sky told me. Preventing transgender people, especially teenagers, from receiving gender-affirming medical care allows the anxiety, depression and suicide stemming from unaddressed gender dysphoria to continue unabated. This isn’t simply a matter of trans youth being accepted – it’s a matter of them being alive.

Trans and nonbinary youth aren’t confused children or a springboard to push a political agenda. They are part of this generation’s future, and they need protection. They will never be given a chance to become the “future” if politicians and the media refuse to let them be who they are and paint targets on their backs. Trans people deserve to be themselves in private and in public.

I have never seen Sky feel more comfortable in their own skin than when they realized their identity as a nonbinary, trans person – they smile more and visibly appear confident in themselves. Simply put, they’re happy. And that means everything.

Paige Baratta, a freshman majoring in political science, is an opinions writer.

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