Transgender youth are suffering because of discriminatory politics. Here’s how to support these kids

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This story was originally published in Group Therapy, a weekly newsletter answering questions sent by readers about what’s been weighing on their hearts and minds. Sign up here to get it in your inbox.

In the first five months of 2023, Republican lawmakers introduced more than 400 bills in the United States that seek to restrict the rights of transgender and nonbinary people, and dozens have become law. These measures limit access to gender-affirming medical care, the ability to change legal names and gender markers, access to public restrooms and the ability to play sports and perform publicly.

Transgender and gender-nonconforming children and teens have been the main target of these discriminatory laws. As of mid-May, a third of transgender youth lived in states that have passed bans on gender-affirming care, which can include mental healthcare, medical care like hormone therapy and social services, according to the Human Rights Campaign.


Gender-affirming care is vital to the well-being of trans youth, and these laws have harmed an untold number of young people, according to advocates. Some families, like one in Florida, are moving out of state so their kids can keep access to care. And these are families that have the resources to do something so drastic; many others aren’t as fortunate.

“This puts a target on my back for harassment,” Corey, a trans 17-year-old, told the St. Louis Dispatch in Missouri, which in May passed a law that bans gender-affirming medications for minors. “With this legislation, trans people like me look less than human.”

“I’ve done everything I can do to fight,” Corey’s mom told the paper, “but you cannot win where we live no matter what you do. I don’t know what’s left.”

One reader asked how to support trans young people, even as right-wing legislators are making it harder to do so in large swaths of the country: “Given the wave of discriminatory right-wing laws and rhetoric against Trans (and LGBTQ+) youth, I’d like to learn more about how best to provide emotional support. How can we help mitigate the damage?

To answer this question, I spoke with three psychotherapists who work with gender-expansive kids and teens.

How anti-transgender legislation is harming the mental health of young people

Being a transgender teen is hard, even in the best of circumstances.

“This is a period in everyone’s life where there’s a lot of uncertainty. You’re trying to figure out who your people are, what your identity and value as a person is. There’s a lot of questions of, will I find people who accept me and appreciate me? And am I worth being accepted and appreciated?” said Kimberly Vered Shashoua, a psychotherapist in Austin, Texas. “A lot of trans and gender non-conforming youth have difficulty finding acceptance among peers and seeing a future for themselves, because it’s only recently — really, in the past decade — that young people have felt more comfortable coming out as trans.”

Fewer than 1 in 3 transgender and nonbinary youth report being accepted by the people in their home, according to the Trevor Project’s 2022 survey on LGBTQIA+ mental health. More than half of trans and nonbinary people ages 13 to 25 seriously considered suicide in the past year, while nearly 1 in 5 attempted suicide.

Many trans youth haven’t disclosed their gender identity because it’s not safe or they aren’t ready to do so, often leading to feelings of isolation. Many who have come out aren’t supported by family, friends and teachers, an experience that can amount to feeling invisible, said Harvey Feldman, a psychotherapist and founding member of the Gender Diverse Care Coalition of New Hampshire.


Dysphoria by itself is a tremendous challenge to navigate,” he said, “especially for teens going through puberty if it’s not the right puberty for them.”

When trans youth have access to gender-affirming care, their ability to thrive increases substantially, experts told me. This is borne out in a Stanford study that found that transgender people who started hormone treatment in adolescence had fewer thoughts of suicide and were less likely to suffer from mental health challenges in adulthood.

Affirming care goes beyond medical intervention; it’s giving young people the space to be themselves and reach out for help, without the fear of being shamed or punished for who they are.

“Having trusted adults to help you understand what’s going on, to give you hope about the future — that is life-saving care,” Vered Shashoua said.

I asked this week’s sources how being denied this care — or the threat of being denied this care, combined with hostile rhetoric about trans people from people in power — is affecting the trans youth they work with.

“They’re experiencing a level of fear that’s almost existential,” Vered Shashoua told me. “The fact that politicians are going after trans youth doesn’t make sense to them, and they’re afraid of being harassed, being a target of violence, having their parents be targeted.”


In New Hampshire, where Feldman lives, a bill was defeated that would have required school officials to disclose to parents that their child is using a name or pronouns that they weren’t assigned at birth. Still, “that doesn’t mean that kids weren’t hugely impacted,” he told me.

“It brings up fear and anxiety. It brings up feelings of, ‘What’s wrong with me?’” Feldman said. “I’m a 12-year-old kid who’s getting evidence-based, developmentally appropriate medical care, and now I’m told I’m essentially the problem. When you feel like the problem, that’s a huge, huge barrier to feeling better or experiencing any kind of growth or positivity.”

One recent survey from the Trevor Project found that almost 9 in 10 transgender and nonbinary youth reported worsening mental health because of this wave of legislation, and almost half had been cyberbullied because of antitrans rhetoric.

Winley K., a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist in North Carolina, said many clients are also worried about getting their care providers in trouble: “They’re asking what this means in terms of our clinical work together, and whether I’ll still be able to work with them.”

This can be especially isolating for kids and teens who aren’t being supported by their parents or other adults in their lives, Winley K. said. “If they can’t talk to their families, and they can’t talk to their doctors or therapists, where do they go?”

How to support transgender and gender-nonconforming youth

For those of us who know and love trans and gender-nonconforming young people, it can feel demoralizing to witness what’s going on in our country. But we shouldn’t be resigned to hopelessness or shocked into complacency, according to our experts. Our support and advocacy can go a long way.


This is what it can look like.

Real talk: Feldman recommends asking the trans young people in your life if they’d like to talk about the politicization of their identities — and respecting whatever their answer is.

“If they do want to talk, it’s your responsibility to educate yourself on how to hold space in a way that lets the kid know they have an ally,” Feldman said. Gender Spectrum, an organization that works to create gender-sensitive and inclusive environments for children and teens, is a great resource for those wanting to learn more about how to talk about gender in an affirming and expansive way.

Young people these days have access to more information than ever. Yet they’re still kids.

“Youth are a lot more smart and resilient than we give them credit for, but they can also be a lot more naive than we would expect,” Vered Shashoua told me. “One of the most powerful interventions that I’ve found is just sitting with a trans kid in your life and asking them, ‘Why do you think this is happening?’”

It’s our responsibility to help young people understand the complicated world, Vered Shashoua said. If they’re able to see that arguments made by politicians have nothing to do with them and are really about power dynamics, it’s so much more manageable,” they said. “The shame, that feeling of ‘Maybe I’m wrong for existing,’ that is lessened so much by being able to contextualize all of these political machinations.”

Feldman often tells young trans clients that they aren’t the problem.

“The problem is anti-trans rhetoric, and anti-trans people,” he said.

Get political: “People can and should engage in local politics,” Feldman said. “Reach out to state senators and advocate for trans youth. Let them know that these laws are harmful, that they are doing damage.”


The National Center for Transgender Equality has a database of anti-trans legislation by state, as well as contact information for local representatives.

You can also get involved with local organizations that are advocating for LGBTQIA+ justice (shout out to the publication Them. for this great list). For example, Transinclusive Group in Florida (my home state) advocates for trans people in need and links them to appropriate resources, including emergency aid. The Transgender Education Network of Texas provides resources for trans people, youth and families, including support with Department of Family and Protective Services investigations. The group also collects love letters for trans people as part of a political art project.

“It’s important for adults in trans youth lives to become more knowledgeable about what supports and resources you can either provide yourself or direct a youth to, to make sure that even with all these things happening, they aren’t completely left alone,” Winley K. said.

One resource is the Southern Trans Youth Emergency Project, a new regional effort that provides rapid-response support to the families of youth who are affected by anti-trans healthcare bans in the South, including a referral network of providers in states where care is still accessible.

Center trans joy: When young people are able to inhabit their bodies in a way that feels good to them — otherwise known as gender euphoria — it’s worth celebrating, Feldman said.

“Particularly when the news of the world only seems to grow dimmer and darker, it’s more critical than ever to prove transgender joy is a reality within our grasp,” wrote Gillian Branstetter for the American Civil Liberties Union. “To prove that with the right material and social support, our lives can be as fulfilling and meaningful as anyone else’s. That even when forces larger than us try to break our spirit, we can respond as forcefully and effectively with joy as we can with anger, defiance, and protest.”


One way to center trans joy is by asking teens about their relationships, romantic or otherwise.

“The dating or romantic lives of trans kids are often seen as different or scary, and people think they’re not OK to ask about,” Feldman said. “Kids want to talk about what makes them happy, and sometimes it’s a partner or friendships that are really positive and great for them.”

Names and pronouns: Using a teen’s chosen names and pronouns may seem like the bare minimum in terms of support — and it sort of is — but it’s really important. Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin found that when transgender youth were allowed to use their chosen names, their risk of suicide and depression decreased significantly.

Never assume you know a young person’s pronouns based on appearance; it’s always better to ask. If you accidentally misgender someone, simply apologize, thank them for correcting you and move on, wrote a social worker from the Minnesota Department of Health.

I want to thank the reader who sent this question. It’s easy to feel like there’s not much we can do when people in power make these kinds of decisions, but working on this newsletter affirmed for me that there is a whole lot we can do for trans youth, if we’re willing to make the effort.

Until next week,


If what you learned today from these experts spoke to you or you’d like to tell us about your own experiences, please email us and let us know if it is OK to share your thoughts with the larger Group Therapy community. The email gets right to our team. As always, find us on Instagram at @latimesforyourmind, where we’ll continue this conversation.

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More perspectives on today’s topic and other resources

The Transgender School provides education about diverse trans experiences and tips for being an ally and advocate. I recommend checking out their podcast, an ongoing mother-daughter conversation in which Jackie shares her journey to becoming the woman she was always meant to be, and her mom, Bridget, talks about the mistakes she made, the things she got right and the lessons she has learned along the way.

On May 22, more than 50 trans and nonbinary youth from at least 18 states gathered in front of the U.S. Capitol to organize a spectacle of trans love and joy: Trans Prom.

“While the country regressively debates the contours of gender-affirming healthcare and the validity of trans people, we collectively made the decision not to entertain those debates and instead celebrate our powerful lineages of resistance. As we move into the even more deadly and toxic discourse of the presidential primary season, Trans Prom was designed to be a reminder and an anchor,” wrote Chase Strangio for Them.

Data from more than a dozen studies of 30,000 transgender and gender-diverse young people consistently show that access to gender-affirming care is associated with better mental health outcomes — and that lack of access to such care is associated with higher rates of suicidality, depression and self-harming behavior. This piece from Scientific American explores the harms of denying care and the myths surrounding providing such care.

Other interesting stuff

Around 5 million to 10 million people in the United States have body dysmorphic disorder, which includes concerns about the face, writes Aubree Nichols for The Times. As you might expect, this number is growing as our screen time increases.

“Algorithmic face filters and inescapable screens reinforce narrowing beauty standards that have us relentlessly chasing ‘Instagram Face,’ an aesthetic that many of social media’s beautifying filters mimic to present a young face with poreless skin; plump, high cheekbones; and fox-like eyes,’” Nichols said. She chronicles her own experience with the condition and how it worsened during the pandemic.


Struggling to calm an anxious mind? Buddhist monks in Hacienda Heights offer meditation tips. Meditation “is a way of life — and an attitude of life that we carry in everyday existence,” Venerable Hui Cheng, a monk at Fo Guang Shan Hsi Lai Temple, told my colleague Ada Tseng. “Everything we do in our lives, as long as we are able to apply the mind correctly, with focus and attention, can be meditation.”

Group Therapy is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional mental health advice, diagnosis or treatment. We encourage you to seek the advice of a mental health professional or other qualified health provider with any questions or concerns you may have about your mental health.