Queer Mississippians have remained resilient through another year of watching their livelihood be up for debate around the country. There have been wins on the federal level with the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, a bipartisan measure protecting same sex marriages. There have been atrocities such as the mass murder at Club Q in Colorado Springs and a steadily increasing number of threats against hospitals providing gender affirming care. Each year I become more aware of how much queerness is holding celebration and grief in the same breath. Mark Hughes describes in his work Queer Ageing how navigating stressful life events like coming out or witnessing discrimination at a young age creates a 'crisis competence' that allows queer people to better tolerate future tragedy. As we consider what the future for queer Mississippians will look like in 2023, one thing stands out.
There has been a consistent effort to attack the rights of transgender youth. The Transgender 21 Act, or SB2111 in its current iteration, was introduced by Miss. State Senator Angela Burks Hill. The main goal of this legislation would be to prevent transgender and non-binary people from getting lifesaving treatment such as hormone therapy and gender affirming counseling. The bill goes on to set consequences for health care workers that support transgender populations and provides protections for counselors who refuse to see queer patients. The most harmful part of the bill is a section that requires teachers to inform parents if they suspect a child is transgender. This would directly put already vulnerable children at risk of violence and homelessness.
For unclear reasons, the bill died in committee last spring. This means it was not presented for discussion to the entire state congress, and there was no vote. Maybe it was because of a busy legislative session combatting an ongoing pandemic and a major water crisis in the state's capitol. Maybe it was divine providence. Regardless, the same bill has died in committee for the past three years even in the setting of growing enthusiasm for similar legislation amongst conservative politicians elsewhere. Ms. Burk has attempted to present the Transgender 21 Act in multiple committees, one of which she is vice-chair, without success. While this trend should be reassuring, there is now another state representative pushing forward new transphobic legislation.
Miss. State Senator Chuck Younger introduced the Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act or SB2728 this past year for the first time. This is a near word for word plagiarism of the Arkansas SAFE Act 626 that passed in 2021 with overwhelming support despite an initial veto from Arkansas's governor Asa Hutchinson. This bill is frightening because it has a track record of success in other states. It focuses on the limited research regarding long term physical health outcomes for individuals after transitioning and lists in detail the potential side effects from treatment without information about likelihood. It also falsely claims that transgender youth identify with their sex assigned at birth or regret transitioning later in life. To an uninformed reader who is looking for permission to discriminate, it would be quite convincing. It uses these arguments to claim that the benefits of gender affirming care do not outweigh the risks.
To start, this decision should be left to patients and medical professionals, not a transphobic politician. Despite the author's claim that these services have limited benefit, there is a significant amount of evidence from studies of over 30,000 transgender and gender diverse youth which shows gender affirming care is consistently helpful in deceasing the rates of depression and suicide. There is more recent evidence published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that shows improvement in depression and suicidality even in the first 12 months of starting to transition. The authors found that when compared to transgender youth who were offered therapy alone, those who were also offered resources to transition had 73% lower odds of suicidality.
Gender affirming care is lifesaving. The Mississippi state congress should make a resolution for the new year to not reintroduce these two bills and create an accepting community where queer youth feel safe. In the interim, queer Mississippians will continue fighting back. For fellow advocates and Mississippi natives, please reach out to the members of the Miss. Senate Public Health and Welfare committee and the Accountability committee linked in this article with respectful criticism in anticipation of the spring legislative session.
Sean Patterson is a Yale psychiatry resident and LGBTQ+ rights advocate born and raised in Mississippi.
Views expressed in The Advocate's opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, equalpride.