Pride in Alabama Part 1: Misinformation and transgender legislation
An APR News feature
Alabama is joining a growing list of states that ban transgender youth from participating in high school sports. Another proposal to ban medical treatment to help with gender affirmation and transitioning failed to pass this legislative session.
June is PRIDE month. This is part one of an ongoing series on transgender legislation. The focus is on one bill that’s expected to come back next year and how trans activists are already planning how to fight it.
Carmarion D. Anderson-Harvey is the Alabama State Director for the activist group Human Rights Campaign. She’s breathing a sigh of relief with Senate Bill 10 failing to get a vote from Alabama lawmakers. Anderson-Harvey is a trans woman of color living in the South. She said she’s able to “live her truth.”
“I transitioned so I can be comfortable in knowing who I am,” she said, “so, I can advance through society in the most comfortable way, in the most truthful way of who I know that I am. And so that's where I foresee these youth are at and the supporting parents and the medical teams are at.”
SB 10 is also known as the Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act. It would ban gender-affirming treatments like hormone therapy and surgeries for transgender minors in the state. The terms “transgender” and “trans” refer to anyone whose gender identify doesn’t match the gender on their birth certificate.
State Republican Rep. Wes Allen of Troy wrote a companion bill to Senate Bill 10 that was introduced in the Alabama House this past legislative session. He said the fight to pass the proposal isn’t over.
“We want to protect children, and that's the sole genesis of House Bill one and Senate Bill 10,” Allen said. “They don't understand and don't have the developed development yet because they're so young. They don’t understand the implications of these powerful drugs.”
Something activists are most concerned about right now is what they say is misinformation around legislation like SB 10. That includes Dr. Sarah Mulder. She’s a Huntsville-based clinical psychologist.
“There’s a lot that I think the supporters of this bill really don’t understand,” she said, “so many myths and mis-portrayals of the scientific research.”
Mulder is what’s called an “affirmative provider.” That’s someone in the health care field who supports and affirms the LGBTQIA+ community and patients. All those letters refer to someone who is lesbian, Gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, and asexual.
“To listen to the organizations that support these bills, you would think that someone could walk into my office and within 10 minutes, I would give them a letter, and strong-arm them into proceeding with medical treatment, which is simply not the case,” she said. “What I look for as a provider in terms of supporting kids and their families moving forward with medical treatment, is that I look for consistency in their gender identity over time.”
Mulder said there’s a lot of misunderstanding on what gender-affirming therapy and treatment actually looks like.
“Puberty blockers and hormonal suppressants... that they are really damaging, life-long problems that they cause. That’s not supported by research,” she said. “The majority of the effects that they cause are reversible. Providers are not cutting off genitals of kids and things like that...In a lot of states, surgeons won’t do surgeries for kids under 19. Surgery is very rarely on the table for anyone under 19.”
Allen supports the ban on gender-affirming therapy and procedures for trans minors. He said even if the surgeries aren’t happening right now in Alabama, the legislation is still needed to make sure they don’t happen in the future.
“I talked to individuals on both sides of this issue. Doctors on the opposite side, doctors that agreed with us as far as supporting this legislation,” Allen said. “I talked to individuals who are de-transitioned who are adults now. We're seeking to make sure that these powerful drugs do not impact these kids and these children.”
Activists and affirmative providers say another area of distortion centers around many transgender people having to de-transition. Mulder said that rarely happens.
“There’s misinformation that so many kids later go on to regret their decision or de-transition, which is simply just not the case,”Mulder said.
The National Center for Transgender Equality did a survey in 2015 on de-transitioning. The group questioned nearly 30,000 people and only 8% said they de-transitioned. Of those who did, they said it was only temporary.
Mulder said another big area of concern that comes with banning gender-affirming practices is suicide and self-harm.
“We also know that trans youth are at an exceptionally high risk for suicide and self-harm, so treatment becomes really important to help keep these kids safe,” she said. “The rate of suicide attempts are alarmingly high, upwards of 40% among trans youth. A form of safety is making sure they’re getting the care that they really need.”
With suicide rates so high among trans youth, activists like Anderson-Harvey are calling for lawmakers to get more education training on transgender and queer topics and issues.
“I think that it should be mandatory in all settings, institution, lawmakers to receive the level of cultural competency that embeds the transgender community along with our other siblings in the LGBTQ community,” Anderson-Harvey said.
The Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act wasn’t the only transgender-related legislation in the Alabama legislative session this year. House Bill 291 passed and has been signed into law. The proposal bans trans youth from participating in high school sports that correspond with their gender identity, with heavy overnight happening on women’s teams.
The second installment of APR’s PRIDE month series will pick up there next week.