Understanding Gender Identity Requires Data and Compassion

There’s nothing like a good debate over children and education to get people excitable. In several states including Ohio, politicians proclaim their deepest thoughts on gender, sexuality, and education through legislation.

In our view, proposed laws such as Ohio HB 616 and 454 represent a denial of not only demonstrated science but the embrace of intolerance at the expense of compassion. Each of these bills presents its own problems for young people, giving rise to stereotyping and preventing them from receiving literally life-saving support.

HB 616 is similar to Florida’s recent bill signed by its Governor that opponents call, “Don’t say gay.” There are three central prohibitions. First, teachers cannot discuss matters of gender identity, sexuality, etc., with children in Kindergarten through third grade. Second, that such discussions with children from fourth grade and up can occur only if “developmentally appropriate.” Third, parents will determine what is appropriate. The bill’s prohibitions on free speech in these matters are one issue, but the potential cost to youth who need someone to talk to could be catastrophic.

House Bill 454 proscribes a host of healthcare activities aimed at young people experiencing gender dysphoria. These include medication and therapeutic care and outline in great detail the prohibited procedures. The bill cites research in its text selectively to support its insertion of the State of Ohio into the doctor-patient relationship and supplants parental authority in favor of the opinions of a host of politicians far removed from the children and their families.

On the surface, these may seem like reasonable restrictions, but the weight of research shows otherwise. So does our own experience in supporting youth and their families for nearly 4 years in our Affirm Me program.

Researchers from Columbia University write that transgender and nonbinary youths are at higher risk for anxiety, depression and suicidal ideations than their cisgender peers, and that gender-affirming care that is highly individualized is very effective in helping these youths.

Ironically, any medical intervention for children under 18 requires parental consent. HB 454 is attempting to solve a problem that doesn’t exist to further politicians’ political ambitions and generate headlines. This represents, to us, an appalling lack of compassion and ordinary care for people.

Kinnect believes:

  • Variations of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression are part of the normal spectrum of human diversity. The increased risks faced by LGBTQ+ youth are not inherent to their identities, but stem from prejudice, discrimination, rejection, and mistreatment.
  • Efforts to change a young person’s sexual orientation or gender identity are harmful, unethical, ineffective, and unnecessary.
  • LGBTQ+ and gender expansive youth thrive and succeed when families, schools, and communities support their evolving identities.
  • All LGBTQ+ youth who have experienced abuse, neglect, and/or rejection need committed, affirming relationships to achieve positive lifelong outcomes
  • Regardless of personal beliefs, all public child serving systems ethically are required to treat LGBTQ+ kids equitability and respectfully
  • Youth have a right to develop a robust network of support, including youths possessing minoritized identities.
  • Concerned parents and families can become accepting and affirming of all of their children with appropriate education and support.
  • A robust and growing body of research demonstrates that access to gender-affirming health care, which is widely endorsed by pediatricians, helps transgender kids’ mental health and wellbeing

Ohio legislators should ensure that the laws they propose solve real problems with care, compassion and understanding.