NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Parents of transgender children in Tennessee worry they may have to move their families out of the state because of a recently passed ban on gender-affirming care for minors and policies that target transgender people.
“Do we stay here?” asked the mother of a transgender child in Nashville. “It does feel like a risk, and it feels like there is not really a right answer at this point.”
Global News is concealing the mother’s identity because of the risk of harassment and future legal repercussions under Tennessee law.
“I am fearful of being targeted, my kids being targeted, or being determined to be an incompetent or coercive parent,” she explained.
Those fears are well-founded in Tennessee, which has led the anti-transgender movement in the United States.
The Republican majority in the state legislature made a ban on gender-affirming care the top priority of the current session. The law, known as S.B. 1, signed by Republican Governor Bill Lee, also requires that transgender minors end hormone therapies and detransition by March 2024.
“We needed to have more data on this,” explained State Senator Richard Briggs, a Republican who supported S.B. 1. “I thought we needed to put a halt to it.”
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Transgender minors and their families in the state now face a very uncertain future.
The mother who spoke with Global News explained that her five-year-old, who was assigned male birth, began to identify as a girl at age four.
“We started noticing a pattern of language of correcting us to say things like ‘no, I’m a sister, not a brother.’”
After consulting with pediatricians, a pediatric developmental psychologist and a therapist, the family decided to validate their child’s expressed gender.
“Our biggest concern was, how do we know at what age it’s developmentally appropriate?” the mother explained. “It just means we use female pronouns and call her our daughter, and she’ll correct people that say otherwise.”
The family treats their daughter’s gender with an open mind: “She seems very comfortable in who she is.”
They speak about the possibility that their child may one day wish to medically transition as an “if.”
“We don’t want to box her in and say this is definitely what’s going to happen when she’s a teenager,” her mother explained.
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Tennessee has effectively made the decision for her.
The girl will have no options for gender-affirming care in the state until she turns 18.
“At that point, an adult can decide what treatment they want,” Senator Briggs said.
But many transgender youth begin medical care, such as hormone treatments, before they reach puberty, so they grow into adulthood according to their gender identity.
To access gender-affirming medical care as a teenager, the girl and her family would have to leave the state.
By the time she turns 18, there’s a risk that Tennessee will have enacted laws targeting transgender care for adults.
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“They don’t care about folks waiting until 18. They just want to ban the care, period,” said Dahron Johnson, a transgender woman and community activist in Nashville.
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Johnson points to legislation advanced by state Republicans that would ban private companies from winning contracts with Tennessee’s Medicaid program, if they provide gender-transitioning care to people of any age, anywhere in the U.S.
“How can one not be but existentially terrified, uncertain of what each day could potentially hold,” she said. “My existence might be further criminalized at any given moment.”
The U.S. Department of Justice is equally concerned, and argues transgender health care for minors is both “medically necessary” and “recommended by major medical associations.”
In April, the D.O.J. sued the state of Tennessee, arguing the transgender care ban is discriminatory and violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Unless the courts intervene, Tennessee’s transgender care ban will take effect July 1.
Yet uncertainty has not given way to desperation.
Both Johnson and the mother of the young transgender girl say they plan to remain in Nashville so long as it’s safe.
“Somebody has to be able to stay and demonstrate the total normalness of our lives,” Johnson said.
“The most interesting thing about my daughter is not that her gender identity doesn’t match the gender assigned her birth,” explained the girl’s mother, adding she’s “incredibly proud” of her child.
“We want our kids to live happy and fruitful and long and meaningful lives just like any other parent wants for their kid.”
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