Life in the United States has rarely been easy for transgender people. But the past few years have been particularly difficult, especially for adolescents and teenagers.
According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) 147 anti-transgender bills were introduced in state legislatures in 2021. This was a significant increase from 2020, which saw the introduction of a then-record 79 bills that focused on transgender people.
Sadly, this trend shows no signs of dissipating.
Most of the recent governmental efforts to curtail the rights of transgender teenagers have focused on three areas: healthcare, school, and sports. Here are a few examples that gained widespread media attention.
2021-2023: Anti-Transgender Legislation Focused on Teens
- In February 2021, two Republican members of the Ohio House of Representatives introduced a bill (HB 61) that would bar transgender students from playing interscholastic sports. At the time that the bill was introduced, there was one transgender athlete on a high school team in the entire state.
- In February 2022, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton described gender reassignment surgery, puberty blockers, and hormone treatments as “child abuse” and directed the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate medical professionals who provide gender-affirming care to teenagers.
- In August 2022, the Florida State Board of Medicine voted to begin a process that could result in a statewide prohibition on gender-affirming care for teens age 18 and younger.
- In September 2022, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin revised the state’s policies regarding transgender youth, prohibiting transgender students from using restrooms or pronouns that do not align with the sex they were assigned at birth.
- In 2023, the following states passed bills banning, restricting, or otherwide limiting gender-affirming care for minors. Some of
- Idaho: goes into effect on January 1st, 2024
- Indiana: goes into effect on July 1st, 2023
- Georgia: goes into effect on July 1st, 2023
- Kentucky: goes into effect in June, 2023
- Montana: goes into effect on October 1st, 2023
- Nebraska: goes into effect on October 1st, 2023
- South Dakota: goes into effect on July 1st, 2023
- Tennessee: does not go into effect until July 1, 2023.
- West Virginia: goes into effect on January 1st, 2024
As of June 2023, 21 states have passed legislation to prevent transgender students from playing sports on teams that are consistent with their preferred gender identity.
The Impact on Transgender Teens’ Mental Health
In August 2022, The Trevor Project released its fourth annual survey of mental health concerns among young people within the LGBTQIA community. The 2022 version of this survey included information from almost 34,000 young people ages 13-24. About 48% of survey respondents were either transgender or nonbinary.
The survey’s findings included the following statistics about the mental well-being of transgender youth:
- More than 70% of transgender youth reported symptoms of anxiety, and more than 60% said they had symptoms that were consistent with a depressive disorder.
- Almost 60% of transgender boys and almost 50% of transgender girls considered suicide in the past year.
- About 15% of transgender and nonbinary youth attempted suicide last year.
- More than one-third of transgender or nonbinary youth said they had been physically harmed or threatened with harm because of their gender identity.
- More than 90% of transgender youth said they were concerned that local or state laws would prevent them from accessing gender-affirming medical care or using the correct restroom.
- More than 80% of LGBTQIA youth said they wanted mental health treatment last year, but 60% of these young people reported that they were unable to access the care they needed.
It is not possible to tie mental health trends to any single specific cause. But several sources have cited factors such as discrimination, abuse, violence, and rejection as contributing to elevated rates of mental illness within the LGBTQIA community. And researchers have also established how stress can affect the adolescent brain.
With transgender youth now being openly targeted by some of the most powerful politicians and organizations in the nation, ensuring that these young people have the support they need is truly a matter of life and death.
How You Can Support Your Transgender Teen
The magnitude of the challenges facing transgender teens across the country can often feel overwhelming. It’s easy to become frustrated and it’s not uncommon to feel powerless. However, as a parent, you have the ability to do something that no one else in the world can: You can ensure that your child knows beyond any shadow of a doubt that they have your full support and your unconditional love
To accomplish this, here are a few key areas to focus on:
It is virtually impossible to overstate the importance of demonstrating to your child not only that you accept them, but that you celebrate who they are today and who they are in the process of becoming.
The Trevor Project’s 2022 survey found that fewer than 33% of transgender or nonbinary youth believe that their home is a gender-affirming place. The survey also found that LGBTQ youth who live in communities where they feel accepted are significantly less likely to attempt suicide.
One important way to let your child know you accept and value them is to refer to them in the manner that they prefer:
- If your child has changed their name to align more closely with their gender identity, always use this name when speaking to or about them.
- Use the pronouns that align with your child’s gender identity.
- If someone addresses your child by their deadname (the name they received at birth), or they misgender your child by using incorrect pronouns, correct them immediately.
Accepting your transgender teen doesn’t mean you have to agree on everything. You can still argue about household responsibilities, homework, and myriad other topics that have been sources of parent-child conflict for generations. But when it comes to your teen’s gender identity – the very essence of who they are as a person – let there never be any doubt that you are 100% on their side.
Acceptance and advocacy are complementary efforts. Acceptance focuses on making sure your teen knows that they are safe and supported in your home and within your family. Advocacy aims to expand this sense of safety and support by making schools, businesses, communities, and other environments more tolerant and welcoming places for your child and other transgender teens.
Advocacy can take many forms. You don’t have to launch a global campaign to bring about meaningful change. Some of the most important acts of advocacy occur via one-on-one conversations (such as making sure other people understand the importance of using proper names and pronouns when speaking to or about transgender teens).
Here are some other ways you can become an effective advocate for your child.
How to Advocate for Your Trans Teen
- Remind friends, relatives, neighbors, and others who regularly interact with your family that being respectful to your child is non-negotiable. Be willing to enforce this standard. If this means limiting or completely cutting off contact with people who refuse to treat your child with the dignity they deserve, consider doing so.
- Speak with teachers, guidance counselors, and other relevant school personnel to make sure they take all necessary steps to protect and support your child and other LGBTQIA students.
- Contact your elected representatives on the local, state, and national levels to voice your support for laws that affirm the rights of transgender teenagers and their families.
- Join organizations that work to push back against anti-trans legislation and otherwise address the challenges faced by transgender youth.
- Speak up in all situations where transgender teenagers or other members of the LGBTQIA community are disrespected, misrepresented, or denied fundamental rights.
Advocacy is both an action and a mindset. Once you commit to making the world a better place for transgender teenagers, you’ll see additional opportunities for change and discover how you can do the greatest amount of good.
Keeping your child safe means more than making sure they are not physically harmed. It also means protecting their mental health and their emotional well-being. An effective safety plan for your transgender teen may include the following elements:
- Finding a doctor who understands the needs of transgender youth and who is committed to providing appropriate services in a compassionate manner.
- Making appointments for your child with a therapist or counselor who has experience working with transgender, nonbinary, or gender-questioning young people.
- Identifying places other than your home where your child can go if they are in danger. This may include locations such as the classroom of a protective teacher, the homes of trusted friends or family members, and LGBTQIA-inclusive houses of worship.
- Verifying that the teachers, coaches, and other adults who work with your child enforce strict anti-bullying policies and are trained to identify signs of abuse, thoughts of suicide, and other safety concerns among young people.
- Asking your child what you can do to make them feel safer and better supported – and then following through on whatever suggestions or feedback they provide.
Honesty and trust are essential features of any healthy relationship.
Unfortunately, as we discuss above, the honest truth is that in the early 2020s, lawmakers in various states are creating an unwelcoming environment for transgender teenagers and other members of the LGBTQIA community.
Having an honest and trusting relationship with your child doesn’t mean that you need to share every article you read about the latest attack on transgender rights with them. It also doesn’t mean that you have to express the full scope of your fears about the dangers they face.
What it does mean, though, is that your teen needs to know that you will always listen to their concerns and give them honest, age-appropriate answers to the questions they have.
This includes being forthright about the fact that, through absolutely no fault of their own, your child will face challenges and obstacles that cisgender youth will not. Some of these challenges may come in the form of microaggressions or cruel behavior by both peers and adults. Other obstacles may be codified into law and have the support of prominent public figures.
In addition to talking about concerns like this, it’s equally important to listen to your child. Let them discuss what they’ve heard at school or seen online. Provide a safe space where they can share their greatest hopes and their deepest fears. Create a space free from worry that they’ll be criticized, judged, or treated with anything less than unconditional love.
There is no easy way to have conversations like this. But you cannot create meaningful change without acknowledging the realities transgender teens may face. Also, your willingness to speak openly and honestly will show your child that, whatever comes their way, you have their back – now and forever.
Isolation can have a devastating impact on your child. It can also be harmful to you, your partner, and other members of your immediate family. But even if your city or state isn’t a supportive place for transgender teens, your child can still be part of a community where they can flourish. Here are a few suggestions to help you get started:
- Many schools offer Gay-Straight Alliance clubs or other organizations for LGBTQIA students. If your child’s school doesn’t have anything like this yet, talk to the administrators about starting one. If your child’s school isn’t a supportive environment, find (or start) a community-based group.
- Look into online support groups for your teen. The online world can be a dangerous place, so it’s important to find reputable groups that are associated with trustworthy organizations. Thankfully, there are a number of options that meet these criteria. You just need to do a bit of research to find the ones that are best for your child.
- Get together with other parents of transgender teens. Whether you connect in person or online, being able to share insights and get suggestions from people who have similar experiences can be extremely beneficial to you and your child.
- Participating in support organizations as we mentioned in the “Advocacy” section above can connect you with others who share your interests, goals, and priorities. They can also help you identify additional sources of peer support for your teenager.
Supporting your transgender teen requires constant vigilance and continued learning. As the challenges they encounter change, you will need to adapt the type and level of care you provide. Here are some additional resources that may be valuable to you in the months and years to come:
- Transgender Children & Youth: Understanding the Basics (Human Rights Campaign)
- A Guide to Being an Ally to Transgender and Nonbinary Youth (The Trevor Project)
- Transgender Reading List for Adults (PFLAG)
- Supporting the Transgender People in Your Life (National Center for Transgender Equality)
- Tips for Allies (GLAAD)
- Communicating with Family and Friends (Gender Spectrum)