Statement in support of trans children's right to self-determination

April 14, 2021

A constellation of interest groups with an investment in conservative, hetero-patriarchal gender politics appears determined to prevent trans kids from receiving acceptance and support, even if it kills some of these children. In spite of the clear and positive impact social acceptance and access to appropriate healthcare has on mental health outcomes for transgender kids and young people, a movement to oppose such programs and services is on the rise. In the U.S. several states have introduced legislation to deny these benefits to them. The Conservative government of the United Kingdom has introduced legislation to prevent doctors from providing transgender kids with affirming healthcare. A group similarly seeking to deny supportive care for trans kids held a public rally in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Saturday April 10. This action, and the larger movement to deny respect, support, and care to trans and gender nonconforming kids, is a serious threat to trans kids’ well-being and we must oppose it as strongly as possible.           

Gender nonconforming kids have long been subject to bullying and coercive gender socialization; until recently, some of them were forced to endure government-funded treatment designed to cure their gender nonconformity. Known as conversion therapy, it typically involves instructing parents – as well as other adult authority figures – to subject children to constant surveillance and correction, and to withdraw love and affection and replace it with punishment as a means to compel one’s child to conform to “normal” gender codes of dress, manner, and behaviour. Such treatment has devastating and long-lasting consequences for children who experience it. Experts in the field of child psychology and psychiatry, including, for example the American Academy of Pediatrics, denounce such practices and call for gender affirming care.

An ever-expanding body of research shows that family support, social acceptance, and access to supportive healthcare produce the best outcomes for transgender kids. Trans kids remain a highly contested population, however. Capitalizing on parent’s, caregivers’ and educators’ uncertainty about how to respond to gender diverse, gender non-confirming, and transgender kids, anti-trans critics are fomenting a moral panic by characterizing the acceptance and support of these children as a social and political threat to society. Anti-trans authors of newspaper articles, opinion pieces and government legislation promulgate the myth that doctors are ‘turning children transgender,’ which harms children and will require expensive medical procedures to reverse. These claims are false, and deeply harmful.

Renewed attacks on transgender children by conservative forces require organizing and energy to combat, and as we gladly take up this work and invite you to join us in it, we also note that it draws us away from the unfinished business of social justice for all trans kids, not just those who have supportive families, access to wealth and privilege, and comfort with a binary identity. Barriers to accessing affirming healthcare include poverty, lack of health insurance, lack of family support, geographic inaccessibility, binary nonconformity, mental health issues/trauma, and coming to understand or being enabled to understand oneself as trans too late to redirect puberty. As it stands, the vulnerability related to racialization and poverty that many trans kids experience receives little attention in scholarly literature, in resources for transgender kids and their families, or in mainstream or LGBT media stories about trans kids.

As an organization committed to equity, diversity, and inclusion, and to the advancement of evidence-based research, Academic Women stands in solidarity with trans children, teens, adults, and their families, and opposes the politics of fear and scaremongering “anti-gender ideologists” promote. Many members of our organization are queer and/or trans people and lesbian women who have endured and resisted these types of organizations in the past, and we are proud to do so again. We call on the broader SFU community to join us in opposing those who call for the repression of gender diversity and the suppression of trans life in our society.

Written by Travers, Professor of Sociology, and El Chenier, President, Academic Women.