Op-Ed: LGBTQ youth are targeted (again) simply to fuel the conservative base

Protesters hold signs supporting transgender youth at a rally
Demonstrators protesting in support of transgender students in Feb. 2017.
(Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

In recent days, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas issued an order, following an opinion sent out by the state’s attorney general, Ken Paxton, that attempts to establish transgender healthcare for minors as “child abuse” and calling on medical professionals and the general public to report those seeking such medical care.

These two messages form a toxic cocktail of “what about the children?” hand-wringing, unregenerate transphobia and MAGA-friendly demonizing of medical expertise.

It is unclear how Abbott’s order will be enforced, especially since it does not change Texas law. And if it weren’t so cruel, one might give Abbott and Paxton credit for their attempts to distract the public from the fire they find themselves under just before state primary elections March 1.


In addition to Abbott’s alleged involvement in mismanagement of electrical utilities’ excessive pricing during last winter’s deadly power crisis, and Paxton’s indictment on securities fraud charges, both face challenges from their bases about the sincerity of their conservatism. In reading their statements one could practically hear Abbott and Paxton shouting in unison, “Look over there, everyone! The transgenders are coming!”

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What Abbott and Paxton don’t recognize is that transgender and gender nonconforming people, including youth, have always been here, going about their mostly unremarkable lives just like everyone else.

Thousands of years of historical and anthropological records show this. As with variations in sexual or romantic interests, or the many configurations of genitals, hormones and sex chromosomes that Western medicine unimaginatively dubs “intersex,” being transgender or gender nonconforming is simply another aspect of human difference.

If being “conservative” is what’s at stake, Abbott’s and Paxton’s letters are not conservative at all in the true meaning of the word. The American Medical Assn., the American Nurses Assn., the American Psychological Assn., the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization, none of which could exactly be accused of pushing the cultural envelope, are united in insisting that LGBTQ+ people, including youth, be protected and given appropriate medical care regardless of their gender or sexuality.

This care often includes using the hormone blocker leuprorelin (Lupron), a drug so useful and well-tolerated that it is included in WHO’s Model List of Essential Medicines. Yet Abbott and Paxton, neither of whom has expertise in medicine or public health, maintain that using it in the care of trans youth constitutes child abuse.

Abbott’s and Paxton’s messages contradict mainstream medical guidelines and, more grievously, openly advocate for harming children. Making it mandatory to report those who seek or provide gender-affirming medical care to minors could subject people already at disproportionate risk to great harm, ranging from bullying to murder. In addition, if gender-affirming care for youth legally constitutes child abuse, trans children whose parents let them access this form of healthcare could be removed from supportive and loving homes and placed in Texas’ notorious foster care system.


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Abbott and Paxton’s pandering to their conservative base also rests on a logical fallacy so obvious they should be embarrassed. While the word “transgender” and practicing gender-affirming healthcare are both relatively new, neither evolving language to include words for something, nor developing medical care around it, makes that thing exist. Nor does not saying the words for something erase it from existence, despite blatant attempts to do so by people such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose “Don’t Say Gay” bill — which would prohibit “discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity” in kindergarten through third-grade classrooms — was just passed by the state’s House of Representatives.

Humans name things because they need to talk about them. Physicians develop and deploy medical care because they think they stand a good chance of improving people’s health and well-being. Medical practitioners should be allowed to do so without fear of being “reported,” just as parents should be allowed to seek out individualized care for their children.

And, for heaven’s sake, kids in Texas — and all kids — should be allowed to grow up to be who they are, without government officials painting bigoted, cruel and repulsively self-serving bull’s-eyes on their backs.

Hanne Blank Boyd is a historian of medicine and sexuality. She is a professor at Denison University.