Transgender youth deserve dignity and respect just like their cis peers, but so often legislation that targets them for discrimination is discussed in 30 second sound-bites. In the essay and news segment below, Candice Metzler, Executive Director for TEA of Utah, goes beyond the fear and the political maneuvering to discuss the core of what fairness means for our youth.
Fear may have won the day in Utah with the passage of H. B. 302 making it out of the Utah House Education Committee, but fear does not need to be the legacy we leave behind. The supporters of this effort have decided the impact of publicly stigmatizing some of our most vulnerable youth is acceptable to advance their political agenda.
As someone who has worked with gender diverse youth for more than a decade, I am deeply concerned that, as a society, we seem no longer capable of recognizing cruelty. Two bills have been introduced in the Utah House that openly target gender diverse youth. The first bill introduced was H. B. 92, and if passed it would deny parents and doctors the ability to access evidence-based medical treatment if they have a gender-diverse child under 18 years of age. The second bill, H. B. 302, seeks to prevent gender diverse youth from participating in high school sports. The potential impact of these two bills being introduced at the same time seems to mean nothing to those who are forging ahead with their agenda: making a conscious decision to move forward at a time when our youth are under great stress.
The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) defines itself as a faith-based political group and has sought to introduce similar legislation in other states. The common thread throughout this legislation is that it targets and stigmatizes this specific age group of gender diverse people. Imagine, a faith-based group using the political system of the United States to target, stigmatize and exclude gender diverse young people. This is nothing short of bullying in a public forum, on a national scale. We seem willing to give a pass to this group as they openly use vulnerable children to advance their religiously-based political agenda.
This is not to suggest the issues being raised are irrelevant or not worthy of our efforts to resolve as a community, it is to say that these young people deserve better and no one should have their needs and very existence degraded and politicized in this way. We should not be okay with children being used as political pawns. We can solve our problems without openly abusing young people. This is not how a healthy and functioning community treats one another.
Those of us who are speaking out against this legislation are largely being silenced in this process. Perhaps this is by design to help push H. B. 302 through the legislative process with little opportunity for people to voice their dissent. What is at stake may be larger than most people realize. These bills seem to be part of a larger agenda to establish religiously-based control over how we define the human existence. It appears to be an agenda to establish a legal determinant of sex based on the absence or presence of a Y chromosome.
Having a meaningful dialogue on this subject requires more than sound bites or one minute of testimony. It requires people to invest their time, actual attention and willingness to listen, and participation in what needs to be ongoing and potentially lengthy discussions. This is one of the primary reasons this situation has gotten so bad and been so difficult to address.
The central problem is the system of categorization, not the people who have and continue to be excluded and erased by that system. Now that such people are seeking inclusion and equal treatment under the law, people are responding out of fear. It is not unusual for change to evoke fear in people. Historically, fear based reactions to change have often resulted in the worst treatment of “other” people.
Gender diverse people are not asking for permission to be included, we are demanding to be given the same opportunities and equal protections afforded to us under the law. We are seeking the same opportunities to life, liberty, and happiness as other Americans. The idea that H. B. 302 is needed to protect the progress women have made in sports fails to acknowledge the struggles of intersex and transgender athletes who have and continue to be intensely scrutinized and excluded from sports.
Stella Walsh was an accomplished track and field athlete who broke records in the early 1930s. Shortly after she started gaining attention for her athletic abilities, people began accusing her of being a man. Stella was one of the first people to be forced to undergo a “genital inspection” to participate in athletics in 1936. This could be the future for suspect young people who excel in high school sports.
Ewa Klobukowska had her world records and Olympic medals annulled after the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) wrongly labeled her as “not female” in 1967. In 1968, Ewa gave birth to a son, perhaps the most profound response to such claims. What many people failed to grasp was that Ewa was born with a genetic mosaic of XX/XXY.
Regardless of claims that all humans can simply be categorized according to the absence or presence of a Y chromosome, it is simply not true. Approximately 1 in 20,000 assigned males do not have a Y chromosome, resulting in what some people describe as “XX males.” Chromosomal variations also include individuals described as “XY females.”
From this, we can establish that the presence or absence of a Y chromosome is not a consistent or equitable way to determine sex. It also establishes that chromosomes are more complex than XX or XY, which is the basis of both H. B. 92 and H. B. 302. Chromosomes also do not result in a universal pattern that consistently establishes primary and secondary sex characteristics. Chromosomes do not result in a universal pattern for gender identity, as was the case with Ewa Klobukowska. The presence of a Y chromosome did not determine her gender identity. Ewa identified as a woman, regardless of society labeling her as a man.
We live in a society where most humans do not understand their own body. Human sex development is complex and varied, yet, as a society, we continue to try to subvert this variability by forcing all people to fit within the narrowly defined categories of male or female—regardless of the countless people being excluded and misrepresented by this system. Our species has largely attempted to deny and conceal this aspect of our human reality. The knowledge that this diversity and variability exists has been around for a very long time, but that knowledge continues to be conspicuously missing from many critical discussions. We can no longer stay silent on these inconsistencies and failures to extend equal protections to gender diverse people.
Our public schools do not teach children the truth about human development. We teach children about human sex development through half-truths and disinformation, which is potentially the most destructive of messages. Refusing to teach people about the reality of human development has not changed the fact that people continue to have such experiences in cultures around the world. What it does is foster confusion and dysfunction for those who are different. It is potentially one of the most significant and unaddressed contributing factors to mental illness in the world today.
The destructive nature of this policy impacts all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, and intersex (LGBTQQI) people because if human sex development is more varied than a simplistic dichotomous system, then gender identity and sexuality are also more varied. Perhaps this is why some people are afraid to acknowledge that human development is so complex, it threatens the very legitimacy of numerous religious arguments and justifications, which are used to exclude and mistreat people who are different.
Recently, the Murray school district banned a children’s book that addresses gender diversity. Some parents saw this as a threat and school district leaders responded out of fear and decided to remove this, and other books deemed “inappropriate.” Many people demonize gender diverse people by insisting they have made a choice to be that way. As someone who grew up gender diverse and has worked with countless gender diverse people, I would suggest the choice is about being one’s authentic self.
As a child, I was abundantly aware of the numerous messages that deviation from gender norms would be met with punishment. Reading a book that talked about someone like me could have helped me to develop a healthy understanding of myself. It might have changed the course that eventually led me to attempt suicide before graduating high school.
Denying gender diverse children the opportunity to develop healthy self-esteem is immoral. Continuing to only foster confusion, shame, and isolation for gender diverse children is cruel and abusive. This is the current policy in many Utah schools. Ignoring people’s needs, erasure and exclusion are not acts of love. If we are serious about addressing bullying, then we should not accept this type of public bullying. If we are serious about reducing risks around suicide for our youth, this is not the way.
One of the most heartbreaking things I have heard gender diverse youth say to me over the years is, “I don’t belong in this world. There is no place for me.” I have heard these heartbreaking words numerous times. As therapists, many of us are doing our best to just keep people alive. The intolerance and stigma associated with H. B. 302 and H. B. 92 make that effort more difficult. National campaigns that target and exploit vulnerable youth make that effort more difficult.
The sponsors of H.B. 302 seem to have little regard for the impact of their bill and have made little, if any, attempt to meet with the leaders from the transgender or larger LGBTQQI community to discuss their efforts. There are several obvious problems with this bill. At a fundamental level, H. B. 302 fails to address the complications that would naturally arise in trying to enforce such legislation. The truth is, enforcement would likely require any suspect child to undergo a genital inspection and/or blood draw to simply participate in school sports. Perhaps all children would undergo such scrutiny. Is this who we are or who we want to be?
Gender diverse athletes competing in Utah sports are not a problem in Utah because we have not had such individuals participating in high school athletics. The problem we have in Utah is gender diverse individuals being tormented and bullied to the point they drop out of school, are forced to try and find a different school, or in many cases, decide to be homeschooled. The isolations and repeated rejection are taking a tremendous toll on the mental health of these young people. We are not talking about that today, we are talking about creating more reasons why gender diverse students should be segregated in Utah schools. The youth of Utah need and deserve our love and support, not be used as political pawns.
To those who feel targeted by these bills, you are not alone, there are many people who see you, and are here for you. If you are struggling, please reach out to a safe person or space for help.
Mental health resources and crisis lines:
Trans LifeLine online: www.translifeline.org or by at Phone: 877-565-8860
The Trevor Project online: www.thetrevorproject.org or by Phone: 866-488-7386
Safe UT: Download the Safe UT App ,or call 833-372-3388
Make your voice heard:
You can determine who your Utah Senator and Representative are by submitting your information at vote.utah.gov.
Equality Utah has created a fast way for you to submit your thoughts on HB 302 to your state lawmakers, click here for that submission form.