Myth Buster: anti-LGBTQ legislation and gender-affirming care

March 29, 2023 7:00 am

The ACLU of Indiana pushes back on common myths during a legislative session with anti-LGBTQ bills. (Getty Images)

This is not about protecting parental rights. In a legislative session dominated by anti-LGBTQ bills offered under the guise of “protecting parental rights,” parents who support their LGBTQ kids are having their rights stripped away. 

Whether it’s a parent’s right to access gender-affirming care for their kid, or to request a teacher refer to their child by the name and pronouns aligned with that child’s gender identity – these anti-LGBTQ bills only protect parents whose ideologies align with certain politicians and out-of-state extremists. 

The cruelest example, Senate Bill 480, bans nearly all gender-affirming care for trans youth, substituting the judgment of pandering politicians for that of families, doctors, and youth. 

Much of the furor about trans healthcare isn’t grounded in reality. Rather, it’s propped up by cherry-picked studies, fringe “experts,” a handful of political operatives from outside of Indiana, and fearmongering. 

Let’s cut through the conspiracy theories and get to the facts about the care that transgender youth receive in Indiana.

Being transgender isn’t “catching”

Proponents of this ban claim a rise in the number of youth who identify as transgender is evidence of a “social contagion.” In other words, they think that kids are suddenly identifying as trans to be cool. 

The reality is that increasing acceptance of gender differences makes it safer for young people to be open. There aren’t suddenly more trans people, there are just more trans people who feel comfortable being themselves.

I reject the notion that more trans people is a bad thing. Transgender Hoosiers are part of the fabric of our society and deserve to be welcomed.

Indiana hospitals aren’t doing surgeries on the genitals of minors

Ban proponents use loaded terms such as “child genital mutilation,” completely ignoring the undisputed fact that no surgery center anywhere in the state performs such surgeries on minors, and that such surgeries are not recommended by the standards of care followed by doctors. 

This language is chosen to shock the public and demonize people who provide care for trans youth. In fact, for very young children, there is no medical intervention. Affirming care for pre-pubescent kids means working with mental health professionals and allowing freedom to express themselves as they come to terms with their gender. 

Care isn’t handed out casually

To listen to anti-LGBTQ extremists, you’d think this care was handed out without question. That couldn’t be further from the truth. These are difficult decisions that are made carefully and collaboratively by doctors, mental health professionals, parents, and their kids. No clinic in Indiana is passing out drugs and surgery to children without parental consent, and no evidence supports this misleading claim.

Puberty blockers aren’t experimental

As puberty approaches, trans youth may be offered puberty blockers: reversible drugs that delay the onset of puberty and have been widely used, for many reasons, for decades. These drugs aren’t dangerous and are by no means “experimental.”

Ban proponents say trans youth are too young to decide to make this decision. The cruel irony is that these treatments exist to give teens the space and time to decide for themselves whether they want to pursue further treatment as adults.

Regrets related to gender affirming care are extremely low

The fear mongering may cause some to ask, “these are kids, after all. What if they change their mind?” But this framing misunderstands the reality of what it is to be transgender. A diagnosis of medically significant gender dysphoria requires evidence that a young person’s expressed gender is “persistent, consistent, and insistent.”

The claim that there is a very high “desistence” rate among youth, otherwise described as youth “changing their mind,” is false. Most of these grossly inflated numbers trace back to one flawed 2013 study of an extremely small population that failed to differentiate between kids who simply didn’t conform to traditional gender norms, and kids diagnosed with medically significant gender dysphoria. That is – the study authors did not determine which kids in the study were actually trans. Worse still, the authors failed to follow up with roughly 40% of respondents and marked them as “desistors” by default.

More recent studies, like the one published in the New England Journal of Medicine this January, confirm the existing scientific and medical consensus that the rate of desistance is small and outweighed by the benefits of treatment. 

A total ban would forcibly detransition many trans youth who’ve never known any other life but the gender they happily live in today. That is inhumane.

Real Hoosier families are harmed by this, and other anti-LGBTQ proposals

Here in Indiana, real Hoosier parents and youth – as well as doctors who treat them – have spoken clearly. Affirming care is safe and necessary for some youth.

By continuing to scapegoat this small but vulnerable group, anti-LGBTQ politicians put Hoosier children directly at risk. At risk of being denied potentially lifesaving treatment. At risk of being bullied at school and demonized in their communities. Even at risk of having to flee their homes to continue treatment. 

I’m proud of the work we’re doing at the ACLU of Indiana to defend these Hoosier families. Unlike the politicians behind this ban, we’ve listened to these families. We’ve heard their fears – as well as their hopes for their children. They deserve dignity and respect, not the hatred being piled on them.


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Jane Henegar
Jane Henegar

Jane Henegar has served as the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana since 2012. Previously, she served as a deputy mayor of Indianapolis under Mayor Bart Peterson, from 2000 to 2006. Henegar has held various positions in government, including state director in the office of U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh.