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Utah has banned gender-affirming care for young trans people

The new bill will deny vital surgery to America’s most vulnerable demographic. 

Spencer Cox, a Republican governor in Utah, has singlehandedly waged a war on America’s trans youth.

This week Cox signed a bill which bans young trans people from receiving gender-affirming healthcare. That would include transgender surgery of any kind, as well as the use of hormone treatment for minors.

The bill comes shortly after the UK blocked the Scottish government’s Gender Reform Bill, which would make it easier for trans people to have their gender legally recognised. The bill also proposed that the minimum age for gender recognition be reduced from 18 to 16.

Like Cox’s legislation, the blocking of Scotland’s Reform Bill targets one of the most vulnerable demographics in modern society.

Young trans people are already at higher risk of mental health struggles and suicide. A 2022 report found that 82% of transgender individuals in the US have considered killing themselves, and another 40% have attempted suicide.

This is a community that is constantly ostracised, undermined, and ridiculed by wider society. Anti-trans legislation sends the message that this treatment is not only normal, but systematically encouraged.

Cox has said his decision to sign the bill was based on a belief that it was important to halt ‘these permanent and life-altering treatments for new patients until more and better research can help determine the long-term consequences’.

Such a reaction to the treatment of trans youth is as common as it is short-sighted.

Just as the ‘permanence’ of gender-affirming surgery sparks fear in cis-gender, anti-trans commentators, the ‘permanence’ of an absence of treatment carries the same gravitas, a neglect which Utah’s chapter for the American Civil Liberties Union has described as having ‘damaging and potentially catastrophic effects’.

‘By cutting off medical treatment supported by every major medical association in the United States, the bill compromises the health and wellbeing of adolescents with gender dysphoria’, the ACLU continued.

At the end of the day, legislation like this – regardless of intent – is a political attack on the very existence of trans youth.

Whether agreeing or disagreeing with governors like Cox, weaponising trans kids’ lives for political leverage is dangerous and extremely damaging.

As the ACLU put it, ‘trans kids are kids – they deserve to grow up without constant […] attacks on their lives and health care; we will defend that right’.

Another controversy surrounding the bill is its infringement on parental agency. Denying parents the right to make medical decisions for their underage child is an attack on the existence of trans youth that claims they can be co-opted by the state.

Utah’s new legislation sets a sombre tone for trans rights going into 2023. Given the higher risk of mental health struggles facing trans youth, further attacks on their fundamental rights don’t bode well – a potentially devastating outcome that will in turn impact the healthcare services and political spaces that governors like Cox claim to be defending.

As Dr Jonah DeChants said of anti-trans lawmakers, ‘political attacks aimed at transgender and nonbinary youth have not only threatened their access to health care, support systems, and affirming spaces at school, they’ve also negatively impacted their mental health’.

For support and further information on supporting trans communities in both America and beyond, organisations like the Trevor Project provide help and suicide prevention hotlines. In the UK, the Terrence Higgins Trust also offers round the clock support and resources.