Opinion: As health care professionals, we know disinformation hurts transgender youth

Our kids are not political punching bags — and yet we are throwing them in the ring to score political points.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Activists in support of transgender rights hold a sit-in in front of a bathroom at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024.

In the current political landscape, disinformation has emerged as a weapon to strategically influence public opinion and shape legislative agendas. The distinction between misinformation and disinformation lies in intent — misinformation is inaccurate information, whereas disinformation is deliberately crafted falsehoods aimed at misleading.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox comparing gender-affirming genital surgery to genital mutilation is both medically inaccurate and intentionally inflammatory. Words matter. How we use them matters. Our kids are listening. Their peers are listening. We owe it to them, and to transgender people everywhere, to distribute information that is evidence-based and not rooted in discrimination or which denies or refutes everyone’s fundamental right to bodily autonomy.

One tactic often used by those seeking to erase and invalidate transgender people involves creating “scientific uncertainty” through disinformation arguments, which then fuels the push for bans on gender-affirming care. When political leaders deny any link between legislative actions and the well-being of transgender individuals, this overlooks the impact of anti-trans bills, contributing to a broader issue of erasure of transgender people from our communities.

The Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ political advocacy organization in the United States, declared a national state of emergency due to an unprecedented spike in anti-LGBTQ legislation, tracking over 400 bills this year alone. Gender diverse teens, like Nex Benedict in Oklahoma, and a cisgender student-athlete in Utah, become targets of violence fueled by hateful rhetoric and discriminatory laws.

Our kids are not political punching bags — and yet we are throwing them in the ring to score political points. This is irresponsible and unacceptable.

The results from a Trevor Project poll in 2023 highlight the direct correlation between anti-trans bills and the mental health of transgender and nonbinary youth. A staggering 86% reported negative impacts on mental health, with 45% experiencing cyberbullying, and almost one-third expressing concerns about seeking medical assistance. Such distressing figures underscore the urgency of addressing the root cause: the deliberate spread of disinformation.

We need to approach disinformation with facts. Citing-evidence based research — including the following — is a great way to do this.

  1. Access to gender-affirming surgery improves mental health outcomes and decreases suicidal ideation.

  2. Access to hormones and puberty blockers reduces depression and self-harm. Delayed access can increase risks of depression and suicidality.

  3. The vast majority of those who transition during their youth remain within their chosen gender.

Research shows gender-affirming health care is:

  • Age appropriate,

  • Medically necessary,

  • Supported by all major medical organizations, including AMA, APA, AAFP and others, and

  • Made in consultation with medical, mental health providers and parents/guardians.

As health care professionals, we know that disinformation impacts the health of our communities. It is everyone’s responsibility when talking about these issues to cite evidence-based research and use language that affirms people’s right to their own bodies. Acknowledging the positive impact of gender-affirming care and respecting the agency of transgender youth and adults are critical steps toward a more inclusive and compassionate society.

Ariel Lee Malan

Anne Charles

Ariel Malan, MHA, and Anne Charles, LCSW, are part of a multidisciplinary, interprofessional group of professionals, physicians and administrators with training, education and expertise dedicated to providing quality, evidenced-based, affirming and safe health care and mental health care to our community, particularly those members of our community who are transgender and gender-diverse. This is co-signed by the following health care providers in Utah:

  • Alyssa Lamb, PA-C

  • Brett Myers, PhD

  • Cori Agarwal, MD

  • Erica Johnstone, MD

  • Erika Sullivan, MD, MS, MS

  • Isak Goodwin, MD

  • Benjamin McCormick, MD

  • Jeremy Myers, MD

  • Joanne Rolls, PA-C

  • Kathryn Woolf, DPT

  • Marisa Adelman, MD

  • Nicholas Snow, DNP

  • Nicole Mihalopolous, MD

  • Nicole Wilkinson, DPT

  • Norelle Walzer, PA-C

  • Sara E. Carter, LCSW

  • Tyler Brown, PA-C

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