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Gender-Affirming Policies Support Transgender and Gender Diverse Youth’s Health

Jessica Fish and colleagues author policy brief in Society for Research in Child Development

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Image of people holding Protect Trans Students signs at a rally

The science is clear: transgender and gender diverse youth who have access to gender affirming care, particularly in schools, have better mental health and academic outcomes.

Gender affirming care includes access to medical and school resources, a new statement of evidence from the Society for Research in Child Development says. 

“Transgender and gender diverse youth who have access to medical services that affirm their gender, things like access to puberty suppressants or puberty blockers, and who are able to participate in school activities that align with their gender identity, such as sports and bathroom usage, have better overall mental well being and mental health than transgender youth who are not able to access these services and supports,” said Dr. Jessica Fish, deputy director for Research and Evaluation with the UMD Prevention Research Center and co-author of the statement.

Puberty blockers, a reversible hormonal treatment that temporarily delays puberty, result in improved mental health outcomes for transgender youth, including reduced levels of depression, anxiety, and suicdality, as well as improved body image. 

Likewise, using the name and pronouns that affirm students’ gender lead to better mental health among transgender youth—according to the statement, one study found that transgender students who were allowed to use their chosen name were 56 percent less likely to report suicidal behavior. 

In contrast, Fish said, the science is also clear that anti-trans policies are deeply harmful.

“We’re seeing policies in many states that are being proposed and enacted that would ban children and adolescents from seeking gender affirming, or to be able to access sports and activities that align with their gender identity,” she said. “These types of policies and practicies will likely increase risk for suicidal ideation, suicidal behavior, and increased levels of depression and anxiety for trandgender youth.”

The statement of evidence calls on policymakers to, among other initiatives, allow access to (including insurance coverage of) gender affirming health care, allow transgender students to participate in sports and use bathrooms that align with their gender identity, and add gender identity and expression to anti-bullying and nondiscrimination policies in schools as protected statuses.

“When there are policies in place that affirm transgender youth's gender identity, both in medical settings and in school settings, that is a recipe for thriving,” Fish said. “We’re hoping that this gets in the hands of policymakers so that they can make better informed decisions because it's really clear that the decisions they're making right now are not informed by good science.”

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