Earlier last month, Governor Glenn Youngkin held a town hall to discuss issues related to public education. One seventeen-year-old high school student asked Youngkin about the governor’s proposed policy that transgender students be required to use the bathroom and play the sport that matches the sex they were assigned at birth. Youngkin’s proposal is just one example of recent anti-transgender policies being considered in state legislatures across the country, with 461 anti-LGBTQ+bill in consideration nationwide. Many people often associate anti-transgender laws with K-12 education, but in a recent General Assembly session, another piece of legislation was proposed, that all public schools in the Commonwealth, including places of higher education, limit participation in sports based on sex assigned at birth. Another bill of particular concern would force teachers to out students to their parents. Luckily, these bills failed — but the targeting transgender individuals, especially transgender youth, remains. These anti-transgender policies are not only detrimental to the health of transgender individuals, they violate their human rights and negatively impact their quality of life. We all must make sure that these unconstitutional and discriminatory anti-transgender laws are challenged and refused. Being a true ally means speaking out against these atrocities and standing in solidarity with the transgender community.
One potential point of rallying is around the issue of gender-affirming care. The Human Rights Campaign released data showing that 50.4 percent of transgender youth, ages 13 to 17, are set to lose access to gender-affirming healthcare. Gender-affirming care is healthcare that aligns various aspects of a person's life with their gender identity, or how they experience gender. For example, this can include hormone treatments, gender affirmation surgery or facial feminization surgery. The proposed legislation in Virginia is just the beginning of a widespread and harmful attempt to regulate transgender youth. If these bills are eventually successful, gender-affirming care will be under threat — putting transgender children at risk.
One of the major risks that comes with a lack of gender-affirming care is mental health problems — transgender people experience mental health problems as a result of several factors, including rejection from society or gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is the experience of severe distress when feeling like one’s gender identity does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth. Bans on gender-affirming care exacerbates this mental anguish by preventing transgender individuals from transitioning. Bans on adequate healthcare — coupled with the dehumanizing messages these bills send — creates a mentally taxing situation for transgender youth. 82 percent of transgender youth contemplate suicide, with 40 percent attempting.Transgender teenagers are three times more likely to contemplate suicide than their cisgender peers. Based on statistics regarding suicide rates for transgender youth, we can estimate that roughly 15,600 Virginia transgender teenagers attempt suicide every year, with about 31,980 contemplating.
While the impacts on transgender people’s health alone is reason to oppose anti-transgender policies, they also violate our very basic conception of human rights. The Equal Protection Clause, in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, states that citizens should enjoy “equal protection under the laws,” meaning that discrimination based on national origin, race, color, religion, disability, sex or familial status is unconstitutional. The Department of Justice threw its support behind the American Civil Liberties Union last year in supporting transgender rights, further underscoring the notion that anti-transgender policies violate the fundamental rights of Americans. Every American has the right to live a life free from discrimination. Transgender youth should not have to uproot their lives to travel to states where they would have access to the healthcare they need.
Despite protections in the Constitution, discrimination still exists in Virginia and the United States. The only way for a discriminatory law — like the ones currently being considered across the country — to be deemed unconstitutional is for the law to be challenged in court. This is a moment when we can all learn from the inspiring teenagers of Virginia. After Youngkin’s anti-transgender proposals, thousands of students across Virginia walked out of class in support of transgender youth.
To be your true authentic self in a world that wants you to be someone else is an act of courage. We should honor transgender youth, rather than attempt to legislate their very beings out of existence. There is no end to the harm that is caused by anti-transgender legislation, especially when the suicide rate for transgender youth is so high. As Virginians, we should look out for our fellow Virginians, especially young people. As fellow human beings, we should all look out for transgender people. This means standing in opposition to anti-transgender legislation and holding politicians accountable. Protecting transgender youth is of the highest priority.
Elisabeth Bass is a Viewpoint Writer who writes about Politics for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.