Alabama Senate votes to criminalize health care for trans youth

On March 2, the Alabama State Senate passed a bill intended to prevent transgender youth from accessing any gender-affirming care. The bill, absurdly titled the “Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act,” bans puberty blockers and hormone therapies for transgender youth. This vital medical care alleviates the psychological and physical harm caused by going through puberty on hormones incongruent with one’s gender. 

Doctors, pharmacists, and other medical professionals who continue to provide this necessary trans-affirming health care to minors would face up to 10 years in prison. The bill also requires school counselors to “out” students who talk about gender dysphoria by reporting any conversations to their parents. An equivalent bill is now working its way through the state’s House of Representatives.

These bills are rooted in anti-trans bigotry and are written in defiance of basic science and standards of medical care. The real motivation behind this attack is to inflame anti-trans sentiment and divide the working class against itself by inflicting maximum cruelty on a vulnerable group of children.

Liberation News spoke with IV, the Hotline Program Director for Trans Lifeline, a trans-led organization directing emotional and financial resources to trans people, about the threat these bill pose to transgender youth: “Debate around whether or not we deserve basic dignity encourages both extreme transphobic violence societally and a general slide to the right on social and economic rights for trans people.”

Health care for trans youth is critical

According to a 2018 study published in the American Academy of Pediatrics, 50.8% of trans-male teenagers, 29.9% of trans-female teens, and 41.8 percent of nonbinary trans teens had attempted suicide. Another study published earlier this month in the same journal showed that suicidal ideation was far lower in trans teens who received gender-affirming care, especially “pubertal suppression,” than in those who did not.

IV noted, “Trans children are incredibly vulnerable because coming out at an age when you don’t have legal bodily autonomy puts you in a lot of danger.” 

As the Endocrine Society found, “Youth with gender dysphoria often experience significant trauma at the onset of their endogenous pubertal process. Not uncommonly, gender dysphoria first emerges with the onset of puberty.”

The report continues: “With the high frequency among transgender youth of mental health challenges including anxiety, depression, social isolation, self-harm, drug and alcohol misuse, many providers view early treatment as life-saving.”

The reporting requirements for school counselors in this bill also endanger trans youth, many of whom face abuse at the hands of trans-phobic members of their family.

Trans youth who face neglect and abuse often run away or are kicked out of their homes. A shocking 40% of unaccompanied homeless youth in the United States are LGBTQ — roughly 700,000 people. The National Coalition for the Homeless notes that “LGBT individuals experiencing homelessness are often at a heightened risk of violence, abuse, and exploitation compared with their heterosexual peers. Transgender people are particularly at physical risk due to a lack of acceptance and are often turned away from shelters; in some cases signs have been posted barring their entrance.”

Schools forcibly outing students can only increase rates of domestic violence and expose students to dangerous situations.

Bigoted bills in record numbers attack trans youth

This new bill comes as part of a wave of attacks on trans health care, and the right of trans women and girls to participate in sports. These laws not only strip agency from trans people but are a brazen attempt to foment bigotry and hatred against trans people.

In November 2020, the FBI released statistics for 2019 that showed that anti-transgender hate crimes had increased 18% from 2018. Although they will not release statistics for 2020 until later this year, homicides of transgender people in 2020 increased at least 76% compared to 2019. Most of these victims were Black and Latina transgender women. And these statistics likely do not even tell the full story: only 14% of law enforcement agencies surveyed by the FBI participated.

As Liberation News reported last year, the pivot towards trans health-care bans comes as a new strategy from the far right after the “bathroom bills” repeatedly failed or were ruled illegal or unconstitutional. These bills had a range of negative effects on working youth and adults. In addition to exposing transgender people to harassment in public, vulnerable spaces, these “bathroom bills” in addition to bans on trans-girls’ participation in sports severely limited the ability of transgender youth to fully participate in their education. More generally, bills of this type also made working conditions for transgender people — already subject to high rates of employment discrimination — in some cases untenable.

Then as now, the idea that these anti-transgender bills aim to “protect” women and children is ridiculous. In the case of the Alabama law, State Senator Shay Shelnutt, the bill’s sponsor, advocates for policies that harm children — and women — in general. Shelnutt, unconcerned with the risks children face from COVID-19, is an anti-masker who is in favor of unsafe forced school reopenings. He recently sponsored a bill to end Alabama’s mask mandate and even went so far as to sponsor a bill that would ban county health departments from establishing their own protocols for addressing the pandemic.

In addition to his prolific activity as a legislator putting children and the general public at risk, Shelnutt has made a point throughout his career of targeting all of women’s health care, including reproductive access. He campaigned so strongly on defending the abortion ban in Alabama that he included it in his platform: “Alabama has one of the strongest anti-abortion policies. Recent actions by the state legislature have shut down nearly all abortion clinics. I will not back down.” 

Defeat the far right, defend trans health care!

Shelnutt and others like him do not act alone, and have the support of reactionary think tanks and non-profits, most notably the Alliance to Defend Freedom, formed in the 1990s by evangelical extremists including James Dobson (founder of Focus on the Family) and Bill Bright (founder of Campus Crusade for Christ). It is one of the most powerful far-right legal interest groups in the United States.

The ADF and its allies have been “shopping around” almost identical anti-trans bills to a number of state legislatures and have usually failed, which makes the Alabama senate vote an alarming development.

Whatever these reactionary interest groups may claim about their motivations — and they barely try to claim these measures benefit or protect anyone — the intention remains clear: to inflame anti-trans sentiment and divide the working-class against itself.

This new front in the fight for trans rights comes at a time when almost 2% of American high school students identify as transgender, a figure that almost certainly reflects under-reporting and an increase that likely reflects the victories the trans rights movement has won.

“Ultimately, in order to have full rights and liberation for trans people we need a new system,” IV told Liberation News, “a system where health care is a human right for all and is held to adequate standards for trans competency; a system where no one — not just trans people — is left homeless on the street; a system where youth are truly cared for and empowered to get the support they deserve.”

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