Opinion: For a more inclusive and compassionate Utah, we must support our transgender individuals

In our pursuit of a fair and just society, we must strive to uphold equal rights for everyone, irrespective of gender identity.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) People gather at a rally in support of transgender youth at the Capitol building in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023.

As a therapist and social worker committed to the well-being of all Utahns, I find it crucial to address the current challenges surrounding the rights of the transgender community in our state.

Recent legislative decisions, notably Gov. Spencer Cox signing SB 16, signify a setback for Utah’s inclusivity efforts, highlighting the persistent issues faced by transgender individuals.

Approaching International Transgender Day of Remembrance on Nov. 20, we must acknowledge the precious and precarious lives of those in our community who are at the greatest risk for discrimination, harassment, and violence, particularly our transgender youth. In our pursuit of a fair and just society, we must strive to uphold equal rights for everyone, irrespective of gender identity.

While Utah has made notable progress in promoting inclusivity and LGBTQ+ rights, including the ban on the harmful practice of conversion therapy for minors, the path toward equal rights and protections for transgender Utahns is far from complete. Transgender individuals encounter pervasive discrimination and stigma across various domains, such as employment, education, health care and housing. Legal protections are often inadequate, leaving transgender people vulnerable to violence and hate crimes. Obtaining gender-affirming healthcare, including gender-affirming procedures, is often obstructed, while routine discrimination contributes to higher rates of stress that exacerbate mental health disparities in the population.

At the heart of the fight for trans rights lies the fundamental right to exist. Each individual deserves the freedom to express their gender identity and the right to participate fully in public life without the specter of harassment, violence or even death. Globally, 320 trans and gender-diverse people were reported murdered between Oct. 1, 2022, and Sept. 30, 2023. A vast majority of victims (94%) were trans or trans feminine people, while an overwhelming number of those killed (80%) were Black.

Violence can also be directed inward. According to The Trevor Project’s recent national survey, more than 50% of trans and non-binary youth in the United States have seriously considered suicide in the past year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Youth Risk Behavior Survey, transgender students report higher rates of violence victimization, substance use and suicide risk compared to their cisgender counterparts.

In Utah, transgender youth are especially vulnerable to family rejection and experiencing houselessness. The state can make a significant impact by supporting initiatives that create safe spaces in schools, providing resources for families and advocating for policies that protect trans youth from discrimination.

Gov. Cox’s signing of SB 16 into law, a decision that restricts the provision of gender-affirming care to transgender patients under the age of 18, marks a distressing setback for trans rights in the state and raises significant concerns about the well-being of transgender youth. The recent attacks on gender-affirming care contradict overwhelming evidence supporting its importance. Every credible medical organization, representing over 1.3 million doctors in the U.S., advocates for age-appropriate gender-affirming care for transgender and non-binary individuals. A recent study reveals that transgender youth with access to gender-affirming hormone therapy experience lower rates of depression and are at a reduced risk of suicide, underscoring the life-saving nature of gender-affirming care and its potential to positively impact the mental health of transgender individuals.

As a therapist, I see just how harmful messages and legislation that devalue transgender lives can be. As both a member of the LGBTQ+ community and a dedicated mental health professional, I have pledged to serve this vulnerable population by providing accessible counseling services, support groups and crisis intervention for transgender individuals facing discrimination or violence in the community.

However, there is more we can all do.

As Utahns, we must oppose legislation that jeopardizes the health, safety and well-being of this unique population by advocating for legislative reforms that explicitly protect the rights of transgender individuals within the state. The fight for transgender rights in Utah is far from over, and it requires the concerted efforts of all Utahns to challenge discriminatory laws and promote understanding.

In the face of adversity, let us continue to amplify the voices of those affected, cultivate a safe social environment for transgender youth, educate ourselves and others about transgender issues and advocate for a more inclusive and compassionate Utah.

Tara Jill Olson

Tara Jill Olson is a mental health provider living in Salt Lake City. She is a master of social work graduate student at the University of Utah.

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