Trans Kids Are Losing Critical Healthcare, and Their Parents Are Panicking

Approximately 150,000 trans kids in the U.S. are at risk of losing critical care.

When Alabama first passed a gender-affirming care ban for minors, Heather launched into panic mode. Her son Rob is transgender, and the new legislation threatened his access to critical care.

Rob is one of approximately 150,000 kids in the U.S. at risk of losing critical care as a trans kid, according to a recent study released by the UCLA School of Law Williams Institute. The statistics are striking: So far, 15 states have banned gender-affirming care for minors, including Utah, South Dakota, and Alabama, although the ban is held up in court. 


More than 30 states have either already restricted gender-affirming care or have plans to do so, according to the new study, and almost 78,000 trans youth were already living in 11 states that have restricted care as of March 30. (That number has likely increased as Republican lawmakers continue to pass gender-affirming care bans at an alarming rate.) Behind those numbers are the families and their trans kids who have to live in fear about what comes next. 

Heather already knows firsthand how risky losing access to gender-affirming care can be: at one point during a family move, they temporarily lost access to testosterone for Rob. 

“There were serious side effects mentally from that. I don't think I can even come close to getting at that again,” Heather, whose last name is withheld for privacy reasons, told VICE News. “If my son loses care, we will pack up what we have and go, but I would prefer not to do that…Somebody who doesn't know me or my child pulled that rug out from under us. That was a very scary thing.”

Studies show that trans people are more likely to experience mental health struggles, including anxiety, depression, PTSD, and thoughts of suicide, than cisgender people. Nearly half of all LGBTQ youth have seriously considered suicide. But, experts say, some of these issues can be mitigated with gender-affirming care. These interventions are correlated with better mental health outcomes for trans people. Teens who are able to access gender-affirming care typically also have better mental health outcomes than trans people who have to wait until adulthood to transition. And medical consensus in the U.S.—like from the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Endocrine Society—is that gender-affirming care, which includes name changes, puberty blockers, and hormone replacement therapy, is safe, effective, and medically necessary. 


“I'm just trying to save my child's life by giving him gender affirming care, and now you're trying to take it away when you know nothing about me, you know nothing about my child, and obviously, you don't know about gender-affirming care if this is the kind of decision you’re making,” Heather said of lawmakers. “For the state of Alabama to tell me I don't know what is best for my child, that is one step way too far.”

GOP lawmakers all over the U.S. are trying to ban trans health care in their own states, with Missouri’s attorney general Andrew Bailey announcing an executive rule last week that will effectively ban care not only for minors, but for adults too—all this, despite the science backing trans healthcare. Nearly 500 bills attempt to legislate away all sorts of trans rights, including the ability for trans students to use bathrooms or play on sports teams that correspond to their gender identities. Trans healthcare is a major frontier in the anti-trans movement.

“It's crazy to see the number of states that are willing to harm trans kids,” Heather said.

The Williams Institute study estimates that at least 126 bills restricting gender-affirming care were introduced in state legislatures this year alone. “Bans on access to medically appropriate health care add to the burden of stress experienced by transgender youth and their families,” the study stated, with 93 percent of trans youth in the U.S. reporting concern over trans healthcare access. 

For Heather, and many other families, it’s particularly difficult to live among people who are increasingly starting to pay attention to—and believe—anti-trans rhetoric. Conservative politicians and pundits, for example, frequently equate gender-affirming care to “castration” and “sterilization,” and they say it's forced upon children—even though that’s not how gender-affirming care works. 

Typically, when youth come out as trans, families have to go through extensive meetings with multiple healthcare providers in order to diagnose gender dysphoria and then pick the best course of treatment. One mom in South Dakota previously told VICE News the entire process took about a year.

It’s also been difficult for Heather to explain to some of her friends how the process has been for her family, and blames misinformation for confusion about care. In one incident, as Heather explained the long process to her friend, Heather recalled that she appeared to be surprised by the caution and thoughtfulness inherent to gender affirming care. Heather believed that  it was because of so much misinformation about this care, 

“Until we have actual facts reported by all media outlets without a spin,” added Heather, “we will be battling for the rights of doctors and parents to provide life-saving gender-affirming care for children.”