EdBoard: The Utah trans healthcare bill should concern everybody in the country

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On January 28, Utah governor Spencer Cox signed a bill that would prohibit transgender minors from receiving gender-affirming surgery and severely limit the ability for doctors to prescribe hormonal treatments, like puberty-blockers and hormone-replacement therapy. It is the first of such bills to be passed this year. The state legislature considered a draft of the bill a mere two days after the 2023 legislative session began, and Governor Cox signed it into law the day after it was sent to his desk.

Interestingly, Cox vetoed a bill last year that would ban trans students from competing in sports that match their gender identity. His veto was overridden, which was subsequently struck down by a Utah court (barring the legislation from taking effect). However, it seems that Cox has changed his stance on the matter by approving an arguably much more harmful piece of legislation. Though Cox claimed his intent to protect trans youth, the bill has already had a demonstrably negative impact on trans adolescents in Utah. It is written without consideration for the very real impact this will have on trans youth and their families.

This legislation is also entirely at odds with the consensus of the medical community. The American Psychiatric Association "opposes all legislative and other governmental attempts to limit access to these services for trans and gender diverse youth." The American Medical Association "urges governors to oppose state legislation that would prohibit medically necessary gender transition-related care for minor patients." The American Academy of Pediatrics opposes legislation which would "limit access to comprehensive evidence-based care which includes the provision of gender-affirming care."

Governor Cox argues that the bill is necessary "until more and better research can help determine the long-term consequences" of gender-affirming care. But it takes one look at the overwhelming amount of anti-trans legislation being pushed nationwide, to see that there will never be enough research to convince these ideologues. It's merely a flimsy argument to defend their bigotry.

In January, the New England Journal of Medicine published a longitudinal study that assessed the impact Gender-Affirming Hormone (GAH) treatments on 614 trans adolescents. Their conclusion: "In our U.S.-based cohort of transgender and nonbinary youth treated with GAH, we found decreases in depression and anxiety symptoms and increases in positive affect and life satisfaction as assessed through validated instruments."

In an accompanying op-ed, two other researchers addressed commonly raised concerns about gender-affirming healthcare. With regards to detransitioning, they pointed out that "few studies have provided data on the incidence of detransitioning, and available results are inconsistent." They also conceded the need for greater research on the adverse effects of hormonal interventions, such as the impact it may have on brain development and bone density. However, they emphasized the "effectiveness of the current care model that includes hormonal treatment for transgender adolescents."

The need for more long-term research is already well-recognized. However, medical experts agree that it is important, at least in the short-term, to provide gender-affirming care to trans youth. Republican politicians, on the other hand, point to the lack of research to make the exact opposite conclusion. This legislation is clearly driven by an ideological opposition to trans identities, and not any evidence-based analysis of gender-affirming care.

It is imperative we all recognize that this unjust legislative attack on trans identities is part of a broader, anti-LGBTQ agenda from the Republican party. The ACLU has identified 262 bills in state legislatures that target LGBTQ people. In the 2023 legislative session alone, 124 new anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in state legislatures. The hyper-fixation on healthcare for trans youth isn't a coincidence — it's genuinely an area where greater medical research is needed, and concern about the widespread adoption of these treatments can be argued in good faith. But this fact is exploited by legislators who want to place as many obstacles as possible between trans youth and gender-affirming care. Just because we aren't in Utah, and just because you may not be trans, doesn't mean that the bigoted ideology driving this legislation will not affect you. We must support and affirm trans individuals in our university community and defend their right to medical care.