We know how to support transgender youth. Policies, practices, and care that accept and affirm young people’s gender identities can help transgender young people thrive. Research clearly shows that support and acceptance from parents, using young people’s chosen names, enacting inclusive policies and practices at schools and in the community, and providing gender-affirming medical care all support the wellbeing of trans youth. Moreover, supporting their wellbeing today helps them become happier, healthier adults who can contribute to their communities well into the future.
Using this knowledge to guide decision-making is more critical than ever. While the Surgeon General recently called for an “all of society” effort to address youth mental health in the face of rising rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidality among young people, states like Texas are threatening the wellbeing of transgender youth and their families. Due to bullying, violence, discrimination, and messages that they don’t belong, transgender youth have some of the highest rates of mental health issues, including nearly twice the rate of suicidality than the general youth population. Ensuring access to research-based support is thus essential to transgender young people’s survival.
Yet policymakers in Texas and in the majority of states in the U.S. are pursuing measures that intensify suffering for transgender youth. Lawmakers have introduced more than 100 bills seeking to limit the rights of transgender youth—their access to sports, to bathrooms, and to vital medical care. Make no mistake: these anti-transgender laws and policies directly harm the wellbeing of transgender youth and put them at greater risk for physical and emotional distress and even death.
How we support young people during adolescence matters. Adolescents’ increased sensitivity to feedback from the world around them makes this an important window for support that can establish trajectories for health and wellbeing that last into adulthood. Conversely, policies and practices that impede such support can put young people at risk.
Fortunately, the evidence is clear about the kinds of policies and support needed to help young people flourish–including transgender and non-binary youth. We are committed to sharing the developmental science of adolescence to support adolescent wellbeing. That science tells us that when we provide the personal, policy, and medical support that aligns with a young person’s gender identity, we ensure that they and the world they will inherit can thrive.
Combating anti-transgender laws and policies means harnessing the facts about adolescent development to inform how to talk about it. Over the past four years the FrameWorks Institute, UCLA Center for the Developing Adolescent, and developmental scientists across the U.S. have worked together to translate the science of adolescent development for the public and policymakers. Below is a summary of our guidance on how to communicate effectively about transgender youth. The full guidance is available at the link below.
1. Connect the needs of transgender youth to the needs of all adolescents.
2. Talk about overall wellbeing, not just medical care.
3. Always connect the dots between gender-affirming care and mental health outcomes.
4. Tell positive stories about transgender youth who do get the services they need.
5. Use a moral argument.
6. Emphasize the future impacts of doing the right thing.
Scientists, communicators, and advocates must work together to keep these harmful laws and policies out of our state houses, and make sure all young people, regardless of gender, have what they need to develop into happy, healthy adults.
In solidarity with transgender youth and their families,