Wisconsin gender-affirming care bill targets transgender youth

Anti-trans policies targeting youth pave the way for future anti-LGBTQ+ bills, according to the ACLU. The anti-trans policies and debates lead to negative mental health outcomes for youth affected.

Last October, Wisconsin lawmakers proposed a bill banning gender-affirming care for minors that would have forced medical boards to revoke licensing from doctors who provide gender-affirming care to anyone under age 18. The bill passed both houses of the Legislature before it was vetoed by Governor Evers in December. But according to the Human Rights Campaign, such legislation, cropping up now in many states across the country, puts children’s mental health at risk. 

A report published by the ACLU last September states that bills attacking gender-affirming care in youth “risk children’s lives to fan the flames of transphobia.”

ACLU policy analyst Jon McCray Jones explained that lawmakers often target youth to gain compassion from voters.

“If you stigmatize gender-affirming care for kids, it makes it a little bit more digestible for people who have baby-level transphobia by saying, ‘Hey, these kids are way too young to make decisions about their gender identity,’” McCray Jones said.

Although gender-affirming care is safe and reversible, this attitude surrounding trans youth creates an environment that stigmatizes trans people as a whole, McCray Jones said.

“Using kids is more of a way just to get a wedge inside the door … It’s like a little taste of transphobia,” McCray Jones said.

Lawmakers may then use bills like Assembly Bill 465, which proposed banning gender-affirming care for minors, as a baseline to enact larger-scale anti-trans legislation with greater public support.

So far, though, the strategy hasn’t succeeded in Wisconsin.

“In Wisconsin, we haven’t seen gender-affirming care bills passed. It’s mostly been rhetorical, thanks to having a pro-trans governor who has and is willing to veto all these bills,” McCray Jones said.

“[These bills] create fear in trans people, but not only that, service providers who are providing gender affirming care,” Freedom Inc. Court Justice Monitor Kaleb Her said.

Anti-trans debates between policymakers create a tense environment. Medical professionals may be wary of providing gender-affirming care to youth out of fear of future legislation, according to McCray Jones.

Justice Her suggests educating on gender-affirming care in order to combat an LGBTQ+ stigma.

“When people think of gender-affirming care, they think about hormone therapy or transitional surgery. But beyond that, it could be mental health services, like getting therapy so you can talk about your gender expression,” Justice Her said.

McCray Jones spoke about the ACLU’s efforts to combat misinformation on social media. The organization posts explanatory videos on TikTok about gender-affirming care and other trans issues.

“[ACLU is] communicating the truth about trans people and bringing visibility to them, so that we can change the culture around these bills,” McCray Jones said.

Mental health effects

Assembly Bill 465 prohibited providing all forms of medical gender-affirming care, including surgeries and medications like puberty blockers to minors.

Yet gender-affirming care is medically necessary for transgender people of all ages. Gender-affirming care can look different for every person, from changing one’s pronouns and clothing to medical procedures.

Republican Wisconsin State Sen. Duey Stroebel defended the bill, stating that “protecting children from invasive and irreversible medical interventions is the right thing to do from a scientific and ethical standpoint,” according to PBS.

But not all medical gender-affirming care takes the form of surgery. In Wisconsin, medical gender-affirming care is not available until puberty. During puberty, medications like hormone therapy and puberty blockers become an option. To receive this care, the patient must be assessed by a medical team and have parental consent. Surgeries are primarily for adults, according to Wisconsin Watch.

Many doctors recommend puberty blockers, which are safe and reversible. Puberty blockers pause puberty, giving the child time to figure out their gender identity before their body physically changes.

“[Puberty blockers] are used to give youth time to continue exploring their gender identity before potentially moving on to more permanent transition-related care when they are older,” according to the HRC.

Gender-affirming care is often medically necessary in treating gender dysphoria in youth, which is defined by the National Health Service as “a sense of unease that a person may have because of a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity.”

This sense of unease can lead to greater mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression.

“Denying healthcare to transgender youth can be life-threatening. Research shows it contributes to depression, isolation, eating disorders, self-harm, and suicide,” according to the ACLU.

Evidence shows that gender-affirming care has a positive effect on youth with gender dysphoria.

A study done by the Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health shows positive outcomes of puberty blockers for youth, including “decreased suicidality in adulthood, improved affect and psychological functioning, and improved social life.”

In addition, every single major medical organization supports medical gender-affirming care, according to the HRC.

Bills targeting youth only succeed in further stigmatizing gender-affirming care, which has a negative impact on mental health. According to the HRC, LGBTQ+ mental health issues are most often attributed to social stigma and discrimination.

According to a January 2023 poll by the Trevor Project, 86% of transgender and nonbinary youth say debates around anti-trans bills have negatively impacted their mental health.

This poll indicates that transgender and nonbinary youth experience an increase in cyberbullying, conflict with a family member or friend, fear seeking medical care, bullying at school, Pride flags being removed and physical assault. These experiences are a result of an increase in anti-LGBTQ+ policies and debates.

“All young people deserve to feel supported, valued and cared for, but the assembly representatives who voted in favor of these bills today sent a message to trans youth that they are the exception,” ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director Dr. Melinda Brennan said in the organization’s Oct. 2023 report. “But that couldn’t be further from the truth.”


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