2021 set a record for anti-transgender bills. Here’s how you can support the community

A Texas law banning trans student athletes from playing sports will take effect in a few weeks. According to the ACLU, Texas is one of 31 states that have attempted to pass legislation to stop trans youth from participating in gendered sports. Amna Nawaz gets more from research scientist Jonah DeChants.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    For more on the laws limiting transgender rights and their effect on mental health, we're joined by Jonah DeChants, a research scientist for The Trevor Project, which is a suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth.

    Jonah, welcome to the "NewsHour." Thank you for your time.

    As you and your colleagues well know, because you have been tracking this, 2021 saw a record number of anti-trans bills in the state legislatures across the country

    So, tell us a little bit more about those. What is it that those bills seek to do?

  • Jonah DeChants, The Trevor Project:

    Yes.

    So we are unfortunately seeing a surge in anti-LGBTQ and particularly anti-trans and nonbinary legislation, both in Texas and across the United States. These bills include things like banning trans and nonbinary youth from participating in sports, banning their access to affirming health care, limiting their access to privacy in school, and other ways of generally just making it harder for them to express their identities and feel supported in their homes and their communities.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And your tracking shows we're talking about a majority of states now. It's the majority of states where these actions have been taken, either considering or passing anti-trans legislation specifically.

    But I have to ask you. A "NewsHour"/NPR/Marist poll from earlier this year showed that actually a majority of Americans oppose those kinds of measures. We're talking about two-thirds of Americans. And that includes majorities of all political ideologies and all age groups.

    So what do lawmakers argue is the need behind those rules and laws?

  • Jonah DeChants:

    Yes, the rationale behind these laws varies, based off of the particular law, whether we're talking about health care or sports.

    Particularly looking at sports, there are folks who claim that they are protecting competitiveness for cisgender girls. However, there are other sporting organizations, such as the Olympic — International Olympic Committee and the NCAA, which do allow transgender athletes to participate in ways that align with their gender identity.

    And so we believe at The Trevor Project that these bans, whether they are about health care or sports, are simply opportunities to discriminate and continue to stigmatize trans and nonbinary youth and their identities.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let's talk about the mental health impact of all this.

    We just heard from Jake and Wednesday sharing their experiences. From your research, from people you talk to, what is the mental health impact, particularly on trans kids, even when legislation like this is just being debated?

  • Jonah DeChants:

    : Yes, so the impact we see at The Trevor Project, both in our research and in our crisis services, is that these types of legislation and, just as you said, the discussion about the legislation increase discrimination, harassment, again, stigmatization, social isolation for trans and nonbinary youth, who are already a group of young people who are very vulnerable to harassment and discrimination and who experienced negative mental health impacts.

    Our research has shown that 94 percent of LGBTQ youth report that recent politics had negatively impacted their mental health. We are also hearing directly from young people in Texas in our crisis services who are saying that they're trans and nonbinary, and that the onslaught of over 40 anti-trans bills in their state this year has caused them to feel stress and even consider suicide.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    To put a finer point on that, I mean, we all know the pandemic years have exacerbated an existing mental health crisis, particularly among young Americans.

    But your research specific to trans kids is really worth pointing out. This is so disturbing. When you look at the number, 61 percent of trans youth report being bullied, 32 percent of bullied trans youth attempted suicide in the last year, and trans and nonbinary youth are twice as likely to experience depression.

    Jonah, by those numbers, that means one out of every five, roughly, trans kids attempted suicide last year. I mean, do you see those kinds of numbers anywhere else?

  • Jonah DeChants:

    No, those are uniquely high numbers compared to other LGB youth and compared to straight and cisgender youth.

    And here at The Trevor Project, what we really see is that those numbers are the result of mistreatment that young people experience. It's the result of not having families who are able to support them, of feeling bullied and harassed in school, feeling like they're unable to update their identity documents to align with their identity, feeling banned from participating in school activity.

    So it is this cumulative onslaught of having your right to participate in society be attacked that can really cause folks to be at elevated suicide risk and increased negative mental health.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Jonah, in the few seconds we have left, we have to remind everyone we're talking about kids, right, kids who deserve to feel safe and loved like any other kids.

    So what is your message to adults about how they can make sure that happens?

  • Jonah DeChants:

    Thank you for asking that.

    The other trend that we see in all of our research is that being an ally matters. We see that, when young people have supportive adults in their life, when there are people who are affirming them at school, when there are people who are using their name and their pronouns correctly, all of those contribute to better mental health and decreased suicide risk.

    And so all of those small actions that we can take as adults to support young people, whether that's displaying a pride flag on your classroom, whether that's, if you're a sports coach, discussing LGBTQ issues with your athletes, all of those things are things that young people pick up and that they tell us make them feel safe and affirmed and that benefit their mental health.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is Jonah DeChants, research scientist for The Trevor Project.

    Jonah, thank you so much for your time.

  • Jonah DeChants:

    Thank you.

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