How Anti-Trans Legislation Hurts Disabled People

a person holding up a sign at a protest stating "trans rights are human rights"

By Charlotte Stasio 

Conservative politicians in the United States are increasingly targeting and criminalizing the lives of gender-diverse people. Rising anti-transgender legislation represents one front of an alarming global trend towards fascism, which has deep roots in ableism.

There are over 200 anti-transgender bills pending in state and local governments across the U.S., seeking to criminalize necessary healthcare and one’s appearance in public. Recent examples from conservative lawmakers include:

Florida: Among the most potentially harmful anti-trans legislation is the “Gender Clinical Interventions” bill from the Florida Healthcare Regulation Subcommittee. While aimed at banning gender-affirming healthcare for trans youth, the bill is so broadly worded that it could prevent citizens from accessing birth control, cancer treatment, and hormone replacement therapy.

Nebraska: The “Let Them Grow Act” advanced through the state legislature on March 23rd and bans gender-affirming care for persons under 18 in the state. Lawmakers in support of the bill compared such care to “shock treatments, lobotomies and forced sterilizations of years’ past.”

US Congress: In a dereliction of duty in the face of legitimate education challenges like teacher shortages and gun violence in schools, the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce advanced H.R.734, the so-called “Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act of 2023.” This bill would ban trans youth from participating in sports that match their gender identity.

Lawmakers outside the U.S. are also pushing anti-transgender legislation onto their populations, with nearly 40 United Nations (UN)-member nations having some type of criminalization. Uganda’s parliament passed a bill criminalizing identifying as LGBTQ+ earlier this month, featuring the death penalty as punishment in some cases. In Myanmar, “shadow and disguise” laws are used to target trans people and have been on the books since the 1940s. Meanwhile in Jamaica, colonial-era “buggery laws” are still used to target and criminalize trans folks. However, many nations have enacted policies to protect and support trans people. The “Trans Legal Mapping Report” from The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) highlights over two dozen countries with excellent legal support for folks who transition including Argentina, Canada, Denmark, and Malta.

By banning or preventing people from accessing the gender-affirming care they need, lawmakers seek to infantilize citizens and revoke their agency and autonomy. Such attitudes are intertwined with the unmet needs of people with disabilities and other multiply marginalized communities, who are so often denied access to care and opportunities they need to thrive. Gender-diverse autistic people, people with depression, learning disabilities, or those who are otherwise neurodivergent are particularly likely to be denied care based on a perception that they cannot make major decisions for themselves. Those in power who seek to limit self-determination for trans people (especially trans youth) are upholding the incredibly harmful perspective of gender-diverse people needing a “cure” for their “defect” of being trans.

Anti-transgender legislation can also take the form of laws targeting people’s freedom of expression. “Drag queen bans” are laws or policies that ostensibly seek to limit or outlaw performances featuring gender “impersonation,” but are often used to target trans people simply trying to live their lives. In early March, Tennessee became the first U.S. state to ban drag performances in public spaces, causing great alarm for the local LGBTQ+ community. Since the start of 2023, over 30 US states have similar bills in process. Such legislation can be traced back centuries to ableist “Ugly Laws,” which banned people from public life for their appearance and had a disproportionate impact on people with apparent disabilities. Drag bans destroy safe spaces and have a chilling effect on free speech. Multiply-marginalized trans people, including those with disabilities, lose critical community connections and support through such bans. Ultimately, drag bans represent a paternalistic approach to governing and are used by lawmakers looking to harm transgender people.

Trans people are more likely to have disabilities compared to the cisgender population, according to Rice University. Anti-transgender legislation can make it even more difficult for trans people with disabilities to obtain the care they need, even if it’s not related to gender affirmation. This legislation can also have a negative impact on public health. Health inequity is worsened when multiply-marginalized people are targeted by such laws as people may seek care from risky sources, potentially leading to preventable deaths.

Research tells us that trans youth who receive gender-affirming care have improved outcomes as adults. In one study from the Journal of Adolescent Health, just using a child’s preferred name was “associated with lower depression, suicidal ideation, and suicidal behavior.” 

The reality of trans-inclusive healthcare is that denying children and teens access to care is far more dangerous than working with supportive medical professionals to meet their needs. Medications like puberty blockers, which trans youth may take to delay or stop changes in their bodies that would cause them distressful and potentially deadly gender dysphoria, were actually created to be used by children experiencing premature puberty. They were approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use by children in 1993, and do not cause permanent changes to their bodies. This makes it possible for them to either “push pause” on puberty while they figure out what they want, or to take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) medications that will give them similar levels of estrogen, testosterone, progesterone, androgens, and other hormones as a cisgender person of their age – a practice that has been used to treat conditions including polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), menopause, and several kinds of cancer. With the support of family, doctors, and other adults in their lives, trans kids can go through the puberty that feels right for them, right alongside their cisgender peers, instead of being forced to endure one that traumatizes them before finally having a second puberty that helps them. By going through one puberty that feels right and good for them, trans people can also avoid expensive surgeries and procedures later on to remove elements of their bodies that would have developed during puberty, such as breasts or facial hair.

Despite what is spouted on conservative media, the vast majority of kids seeking to transition are not doing so on a whim or because of peer-pressure. Most parents and guardians want their children to be happy in their own skin and are brave enough to get them the healthcare and support they need to thrive. Forcing children and their parents, let alone trans adults, to lose access to the healthcare that makes them feel happy and empowered cannot be the solution to conservative handwringing that is based in such a narrow vision of who deserves power over an individual’s healthcare. The community around families with trans youth can be supportive by providing resources and opportunities for mentorship and speaking out against harmful legislation.

Building A Movement Towards Liberation

While the situation around anti-transgender legislation may seem dire, there is much you can do to fight back against these fascist policies. Contact your local legislators and demand they reject such legislation. You can also add your name to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Pledge to Support Trans Youth. Use the power and platforms you possess to speak up for trans folks and people with disabilities – even if doing so would demand others examine their prejudices and stereotypes. Foster constructive conversations in your community with book clubs, in-person or virtual meetups, and/or public media to urge those with privilege to challenge their ableism and cisnormativity. Talk to family members about the politicians and policies they support, and explain why this is important to you. Join or organize protests to make your voice heard and be sure to do so with trans disabled people , not only at the table, but leading the way.

Charlotte Stasio, a white woman with short brown hair smiles while wearing a patterned blouse and earrings.

Charlotte Stasio is a Freelance Writer for WID.

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