Growing Prevalence of Anti-Transgender Legislation Takes a Toll on Mental Health


Key Takeaways

  • Multiple pieces of anti-transgender legislation are being considered across the US, with only 16 states exempt.
  • Issues like gender-affirming care, gender-separate sports teams, and education are under fire.
  • The proposal of anti-trans legislation affects the mental health of trans people, even if it doesn’t pass.

The topic of transgenderism and transgender rights in the United States has been a highly divisive issue over the past few years. Trans rights are human rights but an ongoing lack of understanding and tolerance has led to the creation of multiple anti-trans bills.

From Florida’s so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill that passed earlier this year, to opposition to gender-affirming care, to the states attempting to bar trans girls from playing on girl’s sports teams, LGBTQIA+ rights are dominating the ‘culture war’ and the United States remains divided.

Per the Human Rights Campaign, 2021 was the worst year in recent history for anti-LGBTQ+ legislation—but was 2022 worse? 

While Governor Ron DeSantis’ bill made many of the headlines, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Freedom for All Americans tracks anti-transgender legislation across the US, and according to their density map, there are just 16 states in which there’s no anti-transgender legislation currently being considered. 

The targeting of any minority group by a governing body has serious mental health consequences, and trans individuals are no exception. Many of the candidates who were up for election or reelection during the Midterms support this type of legislation, so in order to fight these measures it is imperative to build empathy and expand awareness.

Assessing the Mental Health Impact

The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey might be a few years old now, but remains the largest survey looking at the experiences of trans people across the country. Responses for a 2022 survey are currently being collected, and this will offer a more up-to-date overview when published, but in the meantime, the 2015 USTS gives some valuable insights. 

Respondents reported high levels of harassment, violence, and mistreatment. Over half of respondents (54%) who were ‘out’ or perceived as transgender at school experienced verbal harassment, while in the year prior to completing the survey three in ten respondents reported being denied a promotion, being fired, or otherwise experiencing some form of mistreatment at school. 

Kyleigh Klein, MA LMHC NCC

Even when it doesn’t pass, discriminatory legislation has been shown to increase feelings of isolation, hopelessness, and despair from continued marginalization and stigmatization.

— Kyleigh Klein, MA LMHC NCC

39% of respondents reported “serious psychological distress” in the month leading up to completing the survey, compared to 5% in the general population, while 40% had attempted suicide—the attempted suicide rate in the general population was 4.6%. 

And the Mental Health of Young Trans People Specifically

Over in the United Kingdom, Stonewall’s 2017 School Report found that 84% of young trans people have self-harmed, with 45% of young trans people having attempted suicide.

Research from 2016 found that over 40% of young trans women experienced transgender-based discrimination, and linked this discrimination to twice the risk of depression, three times the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and an eightfold increase in the risk of suicidal thoughts.

More recently, a study focusing on young people in Colorado found that transgender and gender-diverse youth were two to three times more likely to experience mental health issues when compared to their peers.

“Anti-trans legislation has a huge negative impact on the mental health and physical well-being of trans and nonbinary youth,” says Kyleigh Klein, MA LMHC NCC, a behavioral therapist at Brightline. “Even when it doesn’t pass, discriminatory legislation has been shown to increase feelings of isolation, hopelessness, and despair from continued marginalization and stigmatization.

Klein continues, “Lack of gender-affirming and safe environments as a result of anti-trans laws pose a significant increase in depression, anxiety and suicide risk among trans and non-binary youth—and decreasing access to life-saving gender-affirming medical care leads to even greater risk of these issues. All of these issues negatively impact a young person’s emotional well-being and safety, and can harm their ability to simply survive, much less thrive, both at home and in school.”

Resisting Anti-Transgender Legislation

But while things might appear bleak, there are reasons to be hopeful. In June, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to curb discrimination against trans youth and halt federal funding for conversion therapy, also asking the federal health and education departments to expand access to gender-affirming medical care. 

At a more grassroots level, there are plenty of activists tirelessly making a difference and combating transphobia. From the TransLatina Coalition, which was founded in 2009 to “address the specific needs of TGI [transgender and gender non-conforming and intersex] Latinx immigrants who live in the United States”, to the Brave Space Alliance, which describes themselves as “the first Black-led, trans-led LGBTQ+ center located on the south side of Chicago”.

What You Can Do

For parents, talking to your children and keeping an open dialogue is vital, says Klein, while parents of trans and non-binary youth in particular can connect them to other trans and non-binary young people and their families. 

“Community and connection are so important, especially because this can feel incredibly isolating and frightening at times,” she says, “Advocate for your child and make sure you research and learn your child’s rights, especially in school. Join your local PFLAG chapter (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and connect with ACLU for legal support.”

Hana Patel, MBBS BSc MSc, GP specialist in mental and sexual health and Mindset Coach, says: “Just as we would protect pupils from people who believe corporal punishment is the way to discipline children, we should also protect them from people who believe that pupils shouldn’t be allowed to socially transition in schools. And these things are directly comparable because both cause immediate, lasting, and avoidable harm.

“Schools are in a position to not only support the young person but also the adults in their life as they go through the potentially turbulent time of transition, while often facing backlash from family members or community for supporting their child. Helping parents to act as steadfast allies for their children is a complicated role to play but your advocacy and reassurance can be the difference between a pupil having parents who feel able to actively support them or not.”

Meanwhile, everyone whether they’re parents or educators or not can “get out and vote for leaders who prioritize the health and well-being of trans and other queer youth.

“Get active in your community and speak out against anti-trans or anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. Be LOUD about it and be vocal supporters of youth playing on sports teams that align with their gender identity, using their identified name and pronouns, pushing for gender-inclusive restrooms, and implementing anti-bullying programs in schools,” says Klein.

What This Means For You

The rise in anti-transgender legislation can affect the mental health of trans and non-binary people even if it doesn’t affect them directly—for example, even if they live in a different state. While there are some reasons to be hopeful, it’s difficult to ignore the very real impact that anti-transgender legislation is having on the lives of real people across the US. There are support groups out there, with many available online. 

If you need immediate support in a time of crisis, please contact Trans Lifeline on 877-565-8860 or the Trevor Project Lifeline on 866-488-7386.

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