Don’t bedevil transgender children with extremist hatred

Photo illustration by Iowa Capital Dispatch with images via Canva Iowa lawmakers are copying hateful proposals from other states to deny medical care that is, for some trans children, literally life-saving.

Before my 2019 retirement (and the pandemic), people learning I was a professor of public health responded with polite neutrality. After the start of the pandemic, many people viewed me (and others in any way connected to public health) as being aligned with either Satan or the Messiah.

People felt completely comfortable sharing strong, sometimes angry and unsolicited opinions about masking, vaccinations, and Dr. Anthony Fauci (for starters). So many opinions were expressed from an “all-good” or “all-bad” perspective that I began to call these extreme viewpoints the “Satan or Messiah Syndrome.”

Extreme viewpoints aren’t the province of a single political perspective. The proposal by U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat, to kick every Russian student out of the U.S. because Putin invaded Ukraine is certainly extreme. Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ distinction between “normal or crazy,” in her response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address sounds “all good/all bad” to me. I think that’s what she intended.

The revelation that Iowa House Republicans are pushing for a ban on gender affirming care for minors is a horrifically cruel proposal consistent with the all-things-transgender-are-Satan-inspired view of current Iowa Republican leaders.

The Williams Institute (a research center affiliated with the UCLA School of Law), using the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey (BRFSS) estimates the percent of the population who are transgender is approximately 0.006. That predicts approximately 3,100 Iowa K-12 students are transgender.

Most continue to live their lives consistent with their gender labeled at birth, but for those who seek to live authentically (a trendy but accurate term for students who want to live consistently with their gender identity), restroom use is an example of the conundrum of trans existence.

As the grandparent of three young women, I felt concern upon learning our youngest granddaughter had a trans boy as a 6th grade classmate. I recently asked her (she’s now 16) what she remembered about that trans student’s “coming out.”

“Nothing” she told me “except that he used the school’s family restroom. He’s a nice guy,” she added. Her school followed best practices, supported that trans student, his family, and all the students in their school, and they all navigated those years comfortably.

In the 70 years since Christine Jorgenson became the first person to publicly acknowledge her gender-affirming surgery, medical research has recognized a tsunami of evidence that gender dysphoria is real, and subsequently discovered and refined medical treatments that serve transgender patients’ best personal, medical and health interests.

Professional medical and health associations consistently support medical care for transgender youth, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association and the American Psychiatric Association.

I’m reminded of the ritual linking Iowa football to the Stead Family Children’s Hospital – the game-day gesture of football fans waving to the child-patients and their families assembled in the hospital Press Box Café on the hospital’s 12th floor. Iowans heap their “Iowa nice” love on those struggling children receiving care just across the street.

Conversely, some in the Iowa Legislature want to actively hurt trans children and their families. They are without qualification to offer a medical opinion, especially when measured against the qualifications of the million plus American physicians represented by the professional organizations which overwhelmingly support trans care across the life span.

They have merely copied hateful proposals from other states to deny medical care that is, for some trans children, literally life-saving. The risk of suicide ideation is more than four times higher in trans children than all teens, and suicide attempts occur more than twice as frequently among trans children. The provision of trans care is protective against those risks.

Being transgender isn’t a choice. No child ever said to themselves, “I think I’ll change my gender identity because it will make my life easier. Perhaps I’ll even win a sports medal or scholarship.” Almost all parents love and have high hopes for their children. Some may wish for a boy or girl before birth, but I think it unlikely that any parent anticipates having a trans child. Having a trans child doesn’t nullify parents’ love, but it may call for some special support.

We should figuratively be wrapping our wings around families with trans children, and the children themselves. We should lift them up with our kindness. We should help them access the health care they need, and revere the health care providers who serve them.

Sanders tells us the choice is between “normal and crazy.” For Iowa’s children who seek to live their God-given truth, Iowa legislators need to choose Iowa nice over Iowa hate.

This column is republished with permission from the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier.


Dr. Thomas M. Davis, FAAHE, MCHES, is professor

emeritus of the Division of Public Health and Education

at the University of Northern Iowa.


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