Emily Articulated: Collateral damage

By Emily Erickson
Reader Columnist

The Idaho House of Representatives recently voted to approve legislation that would classify providing gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth within the state a felony, punishable by up to life in prison. This same criminalization would apply to transporting a child across state lines to receive the care that they, their family and their doctors may consider medically necessary.

Emily Erickson.

This bill, ​​HB 675, is a proposed addendum to Idaho’s ban on genital mutilation, claiming any medical intervention that results in the “impairment of reproductive organs and parts of a child is never necessary to the health of the child.” It seeks to equate hormone therapy, puberty blockers, and gender-affirming treatments in minors to castration and female circumcision.

House Bill 675 has not been heard by the Senate State Affairs Committee and, according to a statement released March 15 by Idaho Senate Republicans, it won’t be. Despite the Senate Majority Caucus “strongly opposing any and all gender reassignment and surgical manipulation of the natural sex of minors” — procedures not actually being performed by physicians in Idaho — members stated that HB 675 “undermines parental rights and allows the government to interfere in parents’ medical decision-making authority for their children.”

Even though the bill almost certainly won’t be heard by the Senate, or passed into Idaho law, the consequences of such legislation remain very real for the children and families they seek to affect. 

The push toward medical criminalization tracks alongside similar anti-abortion legislation recently approved by the Idaho House, allowing family members of “a preborn child” to sue the abortion provider for a reward of at least $20,000, plus legal fees. This anti-trans and anti-abortion overlap in legislation isn’t unique to Idaho–with similar bills moving through states like Texas and Missouri — each having roots in politicized ideology and being championed by powerful organizations and lobbyists alike.

These topics in tandem are gaining such political traction as they are clear winners for appealing to constituents with strong ideological, conservative beliefs. Dave Carney, a senior adviser on the reelection campaign for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, told Washington Post reporters he considers “the politics of the transgender youth issue a 75, 80 percent winner for Abbott.”

But as some politicians nationwide and in Idaho continue to weaponize ideological beliefs for re-election brownie points — simultaneously claiming to “protect current and future generations” — real children and families end up in the crosshairs, facing serious mental, emotional, and social repercussions. They become political collateral damage. 

According to a poll by The Trevor Project, an organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth, 85% of transgender or gender non-binary youth say their mental health has been negatively affected by legislative attacks on transgender rights. Meanwhile, the Human Rights Campaign reported, “2021 and 2020 as the deadliest and second deadliest years on record for trans and gender non-conforming people respectively.” 

Using legislation to target an already marginalized community, and seeking to criminalize their options for care, only isolates children and families, exacerbating the stigma that can be attached to gender nonconformity. It aims to remove or reduce resources and options for children and families navigating a situation that requires support, education, nuance, and sometimes, medical intervention — intervention proven to lower the odds of moderate to severe depression and suicidality in trans and non-binary youth.

Idaho House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, described the wider impacts of such legislation, stating that HB 675 has done “substantial damage … just by virtue of it having been brought this far.” She continued, “I’m hearing from a lot of families with transgender kids who are traumatized by this … I think even when they don’t become law, these bills do deep, deep damage.”

For resources, information, and tools to support transgender and non-binary youth and their families, and avenues for getting involved, visit The Trevor Project, at thetrevorproject.org.

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