U.S. legislators would do better relying on medical evidence, not opinion, as they consider a spate of new proposals that would ban transgender children from treatments such as puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones, expert doctors say.
A measure newly introduced in South Carolina would revoke licenses of doctors who treat trans children, while other lawmakers proposed banning gender reassignment for minors after a Texas father tried to stop his ex-wife from raising their child as a girl instead of a boy.
“These legal efforts could not be more archaic,” said Scott Leibowitz, associate professor of psychiatry at the Ohio State University College of Medicine who works with trans youth.
“The absence of access to beneficial, evidence-based care, which does exist, is very harmful and quite frankly puts youth in the middle of political battles when lives are at stake,” said Leibowitz.
Trans issues are politically contentious in the United States, where the administration of President Donald Trump has banned most trans people from serving in the military. State-level battles have been waged over whether they can use restrooms of their choice.
Leibowitz recently co-wrote a statement condemning “efforts to ban evidence-based care” issued by the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, with nearly 10,000 members.
“This is no place for a legislators to lay in on what their opinion is,” he said.
An estimated 150,000 U.S. teens are trans, according to The Williams Institute, a research group at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law.
No public data was readily available on the numbers of younger trans children nor on patients at the nation’s nearly 50 clinics that treat trans youth.
Clinics in other countries have reported increases in referrals, which along with the greater visibility of trans people in the media, has prompted fierce debate over whether children who identify as trans may change their minds.
In the United States, Republican legislators in Texas, Georgia and Kentucky proposed banning gender reassignment treatment for minors following the court battle of a Texas father over how he and his ex-wife raise their 7-year-old child.
The parents disagree over whether the child can have long hair, wear girl’s clothes and go by a female name and pronouns.
Conservative politicians and commentators have sided with the father, and the Texas attorney general has asked for an investigation into possible child abuse.
Legislation to ban gender reassignment “would essentially be going against what is thought in the medical community to be best practice,” said Jennifer Abbott, a family doctor in North Carolina, who has treated trans youth.
“The evidence shows decreases in depression and anxiety in people who receive gender-affirming care,” she said.
Stewart Jones, the lawmaker behind the South Carolina bill, acknowledged that mental illness issues need to be addressed.
“However, to have a person under 18 go forth with that kind of life-altering decision while they’re still developing is a dangerous thing,” he said.
His proposal would ban interventions to alleviate distress from gender dysphoria and those that would align a patient’s physical body with their gender identity.