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Rash of Teen Suicide Attempts After Arkansas Adopts Trans Care Ban

Depressed teen

Arkansas is seeing a rash of suicide attempts by young people and other anxieties since the state became the first one to ban gender-affirming health care for minors.

“My families are in a state of panic, asking what state should they move to, saying their child is threatening to kill themselves,” Dr. Michele Hutchison, whose clinic at Arkansas Children’s Hospital is the largest provider of gender-affirming care in the state, told the Associated Press. “They want to know what they should do next, and we don’t have a clear answer for them.”

Four of her clients have attempted suicide since state legislators overrode Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s veto of the care-denial bill about two weeks ago, she said. Other clients and their parents are asking where they can obtain hormones and puberty blockers on the underground market when the ban goes into effect this summer, or are considering moves out of state. If they obtain the medications illegally, “it’s going to be dangerous because they won’t be monitored for side effects,” Dr. Hutchison said.

Supporters of the Arkansas bill and similar ones pending in other states claim that people under 18 are too young to know if they’re transgender and that the effects of puberty blockers and hormones are irreversible, although doctors and scientists say they’re completely reversible once a patient stops taking the medication. Genital surgery is not performed on minors in Arkansas and is not generally performed anywhere, in line with best-practices guidelines from physicians. And most young people who transition do so with the support of their parents or guardians and after years of counseling.

“This is not done lightly on the patient or the parent side,” Dr. Stephanie Ho, a Fayetteville physician serving trans youth, told the AP. “This is not done lightly on the provider side.”

GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis this to say about the report: “Targeting children and teens is plain wrong, but taking away the necessary health care of especially vulnerable trans and nonbinary youth can be deadly. The cruel anti-trans health care bans we’re seeing have no basis in science, are not in line with what doctors and medical associations recommend, and take critical decision-making power away from both youth and their parents. Arkansas lawmakers should immediately overturn this heartless ban on affirming health care for trans youth, and state lawmakers everywhere should take note of the urgent need to stop these laws from taking effect.” Also, the state’s American Civil Liberties Union affiliate is planning a lawsuit against the ban.

Alabama could be the next state to ban gender-affirming care for minors. The state’s Senate approved a bill to this effect last month, and the House of Representatives is expected to consider it Tuesday, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

By HRC’s latest count, 243 anti-LGBTQ+ bills are under consideration in state legislatures around the nation. Of these, at least 117 are specifically anti-transgender, and 31 would ban gender-affirming medical care for minors. These bills are opposed by numerous children’s health groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the National Association of Social Workers.

Many of the other anti-trans bills seek to bar trans student athletes from competing in school sports under their gender identity. Anti-trans sports bills have been signed into law this year in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee, West Virginia’s governor is expected to sign one soon, and South Dakota’s governor issued executive orders to the same effect. A similar law enacted last year in Idaho has been blocked by a federal judge while a lawsuit against it is heard.

And Monday, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum signed a bill into law that would allow school-supported clubs at public schools, colleges, and universities to discriminate. Many state colleges and universities have “all-comers” policies that require student organizations receiving financial and other support from the institution not to discriminate against students based on race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity, but this legislation undermines that, according to HRC.

“Student organizations can now choose to turn away a range of potential members and leaders — from LGBTQ students to students of particular gender, race, or religious belief — and still receive state funding,” HRC President Alphonso David said in a press release. “This law is nothing more than a harmful attempt by Gov. Doug Burgum and North Dakota legislators to discriminate against LGBTQ and other marginalized communities. No student should be denied full access to and enjoyment of educational, social, and leadership opportunities typically offered by colleges and universities because of who they are.”

Several other anti-LGBTQ+ bills are awaiting action by governors: anti-trans sports bills in Alabama, Kansas, and North Dakota; parental notification and opt-out/opt-in bills on LGBTQ-inclusive curricula in Arizona, Arkansas, and Tennessee; a religious refusals bill in Montana (one relating specifically to health care has been signed into law in Arkansas); and one making it harder for trans people to obtain new birth certificates, also in Montana.

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