We Must Facilitate Awareness, Raise Visibility and Instill Empathy to Fight this Epidemic

As anti-trans rhetoric continues to rise in our country, misinformation about nonbinary, gender non-conforming and transgender people runs rampant. Currently, the ACLU is tracking 467 anti-LGBTQ bills in the U.S., many specifically targeting this community. Anti-trans rhetoric often pushes a false narrative of young people being rushed to surgery as soon as they show signs of being a gender non-conforming person, injecting unfounded fear into the public. Transitioning is a multi-tiered process completed alongside professionals. We must facilitate awareness on this topic, raise visibility of the transgender and nonbinary people and instill empathy in our communities.

There is a lack of understanding surrounding the range of gender-affirming care available. Although we all have our own individual experiences of gender identity, when someone’s gender identity is different from their assigned sex at birth, they can experience mental health challenges. Gender-affirming care can help alleviate stress related to gender identity through therapy for issues like suicidal thoughts, depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, a recent Trevor Project survey revealed that 93% of transgender and nonbinary youth are anxious about being denied this type of care due to state or local legislation. Harmful legislation has made this fear a reality, exacerbating mental health issues and deaths within this community. In fact, 45% of LGBTQ youth considered suicide in 2021, including 53% of transgender and nonbinary youth. Proper mental health care would significantly reduce these numbers. If we value the well-being of our youth, it is crucial that we offer them life-saving care.

Sadly, the public is often misinformed about transitioning, leading to erroneous misconceptions. We must not lose hope, however. Medical News Today found that for many transgender people, quality of life improves after transition, citing better psychosocial functioning, more stable relationships and increased contentment. Education and access to care are vital to the well-being of this community—lives are at stake.

Understanding the transitioning process

Organizations like the Movement Advancement Project and the Human Rights Campaign continually monitor anti-trans legislation nationwide. Yet, there is a sense of urgency like never before— in the past three months, ten states have passed laws prohibiting gender-affirming care for young people. Florida alone is responsible for introducing nine anti-trans bills this year, setting a dangerous precedent.

We sat with Dr. Jill Ehrenreich-May, Ph.D., President of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, who spoke on the subject.

"There is misinformation about normal development of gender identity and sexuality that increasingly portrays non-binary, gender non-conforming and transgender youth as having mental illnesses. Denying or dismissing their identity can result in increased minority stress, which has harmful physical and mental health consequences over time," shared Dr. Ehrenreich-May. "In fact, when non-binary, gender non-conforming and transgender youth present for therapy, sometimes it is the minority stress experience that is most challenging for them to navigate— the rejection and discrimination, for example, as well as the anxiety or depression such stress can lead to over time," she added.

Many people do not understand what transitioning entails due to a lack of information in media and society. The process involves three stages: Cultural or Social Transition, Psychological or Medical Transition, and Surgical Transition. During the Cultural phase, the person transitioning may make changes such as coming out to family and friends, changing their clothing and pronouns or changing legal documents to reflect their chosen name and pronoun. The Psychological or Medical stage includes various treatments, like hormone therapy and puberty blockers, both reversible. The final phase is Surgical Transition, which is optional and often performed in adulthood. The misconception that kids are rushed into surgery without evaluation is erroneous. Transitioning is not an impulsive decision—it involves gender-affirming care specialists working alongside the patient to achieve the best result possible.

Trans rights are human rights

At a time when the stories we share may be a matter of life or death, we have a responsibility to raise visibility in our community and uplift the voices of those who witness these issues firsthand.

At SAVE, we believe in taking immediate action, so we launched a preloaded letter-writing campaign to help our allies contact local representatives about anti-LGBTQ bills during Florida's 2023 legislative session. Our country was founded on the premise of freedom, and we all deserve to have our rights protected. We are ethically obligated to redirect our neighbors to research-based studies that reject misinformation and educate them on all aspects concerning gender, including cultural transitions, therapeutic support and clinical considerations. This is no longer a partisan issue— it's a human rights issue.

By Orlando Gonzales

Executive Director, Safeguarding American Values for Everyone (SAVE)

Published in the Orlando Sentinel on June 25th.