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Trans Youth 'Driven to Deaths of Despair,' Says Admiral Rachel Levine

Rachel Levine
Courtesy Department of Health and Human Services

Levine, the highest-ranking trans person in the federal government, will speak Saturday in Texas on the harm done by anti-trans legislation and policies.

Admiral Rachel Levine, the highest-ranking transgender person in the federal government, will speak on the grave harm done by anti-trans legislation and policies when she addresses the Out for Health Conference Saturday at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.

"Trans youth in particular are being hounded in public and driven to deaths of despair at an alarming rate," Levine wrote in the speech she will deliver; she shared the prepared remarks with NPR. "Fifty-two percent of all transgender and nonbinary young people in the U.S. seriously contemplated killing themselves in 2020. Think about how many of them thought it was better to die than to put up with any more harassment, scapegoating, and intentional abuse."

In an interview with NPR, Levine, assistant secretary for health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said anti-trans bills and policies "are politically based. It's not public health-based. It's not medically based in any way."

More than 100 anti-trans bills have been introduced in state legislatures this year, mostly directed at youth; some seek to bar trans student athletes from participating in sports under their gender identity, while others would deny gender-affirming health care to young people. In Texas, where she will speak, Gov. Greg Abbott has ordered state authorities to investigate parents who allow their children access to such care as potential child abusers (his order is temporarily blocked by a court while a lawsuit against it is heard). Florida has issued guidelines arguing that minors should not undergo gender-affirming procedures.

These are "egregious actions, one might say insidious actions, that are politically motivated and really harm trans and gender-diverse youth and their families," Levine said. Medical professionals recognize that gender-affirming care is a positive thing, she noted.

LGBTQ+ youth, especially trans youth, are extremely vulnerable and need support, she said. "We need to empower them because they are at risk," she told NPR.

The Out for Health Conference is an annual event organized by medical students across Texas to address the needs of LGBTQ+ people. "It's a tremendous opportunity to speak with young professionals about health equity, diversity, and inclusion," Levine said.

Many people who aren't trans don't understand the complexity of gender identity, Levine said. Sex and gender are "multidimensional," she said, and go beyond the "simple binary of male and female." She seeks to explain that in her work. Her speech will address the importance of understanding others' experience.

"Anyone who believes that words are not the same as actions, who believe that LGBTQI people should just toughen up, should walk a mile in our shoes," she noted in her prepared remarks. That means having empathy, she said in the interview: "It really is incumbent upon us to have empathy and compassion for those that are different from us."

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