JED Condemns the Criminalization of Gender-Affirming Care for Trans Youth

The Jed Foundation (JED) condemns statements and policies that threaten the mental health of transgender youth.

In the first week of 2022, seven states proposed laws restricting the rights of trans youth, following a spate of anti-LGBTQ legislation introduced in 2021. In recent months, politicians have tried to legally equate a parent’s pursuit of gender-affirming care for their child with child abuse. 

Regardless of their outcomes, anti-trans bills have a harmful impact: In one poll, 85% of transgender and nonbinary youth said that the debates surrounding these bills negatively affected their mental health. Many reported feelings of anger, sadness, fear, and hopelessness in response to proposed legislation restricting their access to gender-affirming care.

LGBTQ youth are already at a higher risk of suicide than their peers:

  • LGBTQ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers.
  • 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.
  • Transgender and nonbinary youth are up to 2.5 times as likely to experience depressive symptoms, seriously consider suicide, and attempt suicide compared to cisgender, nonheteronormative peers.

Compounding these concerns are a lack of access to mental health care and familial support: 

This significant risk is likely to escalate as their access to health care is curbed, and as they see prominent leaders speaking out against their right to care.

Therefore, it is JED’s position that only a team that consists of legal caregivers, qualified health care providers, and the youths themselves should take part in discussions and decisions about their identity and the pursuit of gender-affirming care. 

By extension, we condemn the criminalization of gender-affirming care and assert that the rights of trans youth should not be commodified as a political talking point. With or without actionable implementation, the conversation invalidates the lived experience of trans youth and threatens their hope for future access to care, all of which can be harmful to their mental health. 

Our work is based on evidence that shows teens and young adults thrive in an environment where their lived experience is understood and validated, where they have a strong personal support network, and where they have access to treatment. 

For trans youth, that environment should not only include access to pubertal suppression, hormone therapy, and other gender-affirming medical care, but also binders, shapewear, and identity-affirming clothes. Trans and nonbinary youth who can explore gender expression and succeed in finding means of identity congruence reported lower rates of suicide attempts, compared to those without access (14% and 26%, respectively, as of 2020).

Community connectedness, along with a personal support network, can be a major protective factor for trans and nonbinary youth. Affirming peers, family members, mentors, and programs can reduce levels of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation, while promoting a sense of belonging and individual self-esteem. To be clear: It is essential to be both proactive and vocal in affirmation, inclusion, and support. 

JED endorses the safety and well-being of LGBTQ youths (and the thriving adults they will become).  We provide online resources regarding gender and sexuality for young people, their parents, and educators. In 2021, we co-produced the Proud & Thriving Report & Framework: Supporting the Mental Health of LGBTQ+ High School, College, and University Students

To continue support at this critical time, we will remain vocal in our advocacy, be receptive to ways we can grow our expertise in this area, and build out additional resources to protect the mental health of our nation’s trans youth.

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