By Oliver Hall

I’m a transgender Kentuckian, and I’m terrified for the future of our state’s trans youth.

I was not out as a child. I didn’t know that was an option. For most of my youth, I had a lot of angst related to my body and the way I interacted with my peers; I was always bullied for being gender nonconforming, before I had any idea what the term even meant. Going through puberty as a teenager only intensified those feelings about my body and destroyed my mental health. Having the right language, an understanding that being trans is normal, and access to hormone blockers and hormone replacement therapy would’ve made a huge difference in my life and my well-being. 

As difficult as those moments in my youth were, they would have been made worse if I had known gender-affirming care existed but was illegal in my state. And that is exactly the scenario that lawmakers are threatening to create for young trans Kentuckians.

In my role as the director of the Kentucky Health Justice Network’s Trans Health Advocacy Program, I sometimes interact with trans youth, often through their parents, who reach out to us for guidance on where to find resources for their children. While many trans youth have gone through some of the same things I experienced, for some it wasn’t as big of a deal for them to realize they are trans, as society is progressing toward acceptance of trans people. Currently, many trans kids can go to school, are called by their name and pronouns, and have access to gender-affirming healthcare. Realizing they are trans made sense to them, and other people understand who they are and that they just want to live their lives. 

What happens to those kids if that access and acceptance is reversed or taken away? Could you imagine what that would feel like to a child who is still coming to understand what it means for them to exist in the world? To know that ease—that normalcy—can so easily be taken away by lawmakers isn’t just shocking and upsetting, it's dangerous. Trans youth are nearly eight times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers. If trans kids are forced to go through puberty, Kentucky lawmakers are increasing the chance that young trans Kentuckians will take their own lives. That is unconscionable and something lawmakers don't seem to fully understand.

There is evidence that trans Kentuckians are already being denied access to healthcare across the state, including routine and emergency medical care. Right now, there’s some recourse to get justice in those situations, but the anti-trans bills proposed in the Kentucky General Assembly will embolden healthcare providers and staff to continue to make accessing healthcare for trans people hell. There will be no consequences.

Additionally, many trans youth in Kentucky already have access to gender-affirming care and resources. Some of them have already been on hormone blockers. Laws preventing gender-affirming care would force them to de-transition, causing them years of mental and physical pain. Trans youth deserve better.

You cannot legislate trans people out of existence. Instead of these bills, we need better access to trans-competent providers, like primary care, therapists, and psychiatrists. Trans youth need to know that they are loved and supported. That is how we reduce youth suicide rates and save the lives of Kentucky children.