Who are we?
The Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network (AWN) and the Autistic People of Color Fund (The Fund) strongly oppose the anti-transgender bills, laws, executive orders, and regulations introduced by state governments. AWN is a national nonprofit that supports autistic women, girls, transfeminine and transmasculine nonbinary people, and trans people of all genders. The Fund promotes the advancement, inclusion, and integration of autistic people of color through microgrants and systems change advocacy. Together, AWN and the Fund engage in policy research and community-led advocacy to advance more just outcomes for disabled people that affirm our humanity and respect our dignity.
What’s the matter with the anti-trans legislation sweeping the United States?
Regulations and legislative measures that prevent transgender children and youth from receiving gender-affirming care or having their correct pronouns and names acknowledged in the classroom are dangerous and dehumanizing. These policies directly contravene the vast body of empirical scientific and medical evidence that shows that gender-affirming care and public policy prevent suicides and other adverse mental health outcomes among transgender youth.
These anti-trans bills, executive orders, laws, and regulations violate the rights of parents who affirm their children’s gender identity. Parental consent is required for puberty blockers, gender-affirming surgery, and hormonal treatments for youth under the age of 18. We repeat: Parental consent is required for all medical interventions for youth under 18. The same applies for other reproductive and sexual healthcare, including birth control. Furthermore, the effects of puberty blockers are reversible. Transition among children and youth is primarily social—changes in names, pronouns, and often clothing and hairstyles—rather than physical. These policies are in place to protect youth who do desist from a trans identity. The age restrictions that parents and legislators seek are already in place.
Why does affirmation save young trans people’s lives?
These anti-LGBTQ+ policies are also deadly. Suicides among trans youth have skyrocketed during the last few years when many such bills have been introduced and passed into law. The Trevor Project estimates that 1.8 million LGBTQ+ youth seriously consider suicide each year. This averages to at least one suicide attempt every 45 seconds. Transgender youth, specifically, are four times as likely to attempt suicide compared with their cisgender peers. In contrast, the Trevor Project found that accepting transgender youth’s asserted gender identity significantly lowers the risk for attempted and completed suicide. LGBTQ+ youth who found their schools to be affirming of their gender and sexuality reported lower rates of attempted suicide. Dr. Myeshia Price, a developmental psychologist and a senior research scientist at the Trevor Project, said, “The findings of this study are clear: transgender and nonbinary young people who feel accepted by the people in their lives, are less likely to attempt suicide.”
LGBTQ+ youth are not at higher risk of suicide because of who they are; rather, this risk is higher because of the discrimination and prejudice they face. Discriminatory policy proposals targeting the transgender community will only exacerbate these already skyrocketing suicide rates.
Why is protecting trans youth a disability rights issue?
Moreover, protecting the rights of trans people, including trans autistic people, is a disability rights issue. Disability rights has historically been a bipartisan issue, with both Republicans and Democrats supporting the rights of disabled Americans, who make up at least one-fifth of the population. President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law in 1990, and successive presidents from both parties have continued to uphold its tenets. Respecting disabled people’s self-determination includes respecting our right to assert our own gender identities. But anti-trans advocates have focused on autistic people as a reason for opposing the rights of transgender children, youth, and adults. For example, a newly passed Georgia law includes a clause stating, “Gender dysphoria is often comorbid with other mental health and developmental conditions, including autism spectrum disorder.” Similarly, the governor of Missouri signed an executive order that would require healthcare providers to screen trans patients for autism. Although this order was blocked by a judge, this regulation still sets a dangerous precedent. By citing the connection between the transgender and autistic communities as a reason to deny competence, autistic people are unfortunately being forced to choose between their disability or their gender identity when both need to be uplifted simultaneously.
Autistic people are fully capable of making our own decisions. Claiming that autistic people who want to transition are being recruited or victimized into transitioning denies us the right to determine the course of our own lives. As two autistic-led disability rights and justice organizations, the Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network and Autistic People of Color Fund strongly reject this notion. We remain concerned, however, that the damaging narrative that autistic people are unable to make the decision to medically transition will continue to be written into regulations, bills, and laws.
Why is this anti-trans legislation also harmful to intersex people?
Intersex people, too, have been harmed by ongoing anti-trans policies. Erika Lorshbough, Executive Director of interACT: Advocates for Intersex Youth said in a 2022 statement to Human Rights Watch, “When lawmakers propose and pass explicit exceptions for surgeons to operate on intersex bodies before the patients themselves can consent, it makes it clear that these bills are about erasing bodily diversity, not protecting anyone.” Intersex children are often subjected to medically unnecessary surgeries, and much of this care mirrors the care that transgender people are routinely denied. The senior researcher on health and LGBT rights at Human Rights Watch asserts, “Bundling the unconscionable assault on transgender children’s access to health care with provisions allowing for medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex kids is just two human rights violations for the price of one.”
What’s the matter with common anti-trans arguments?
Unfortunately, extremist activists and politicians refuse to acknowledge this body of evidence when advocating against the rights of transgender children and youth. Instead, they are motivated by deep-seated gender prejudice. Arguments against transgender rights that rely on arguments about parental rights and children’s safety are baseless pretextual justification for discrimination. Such arguments rely on the same canards that characterized prejudiced campaigns against the legalization of same-gender marriage in the 1990s and early 2000s. These arguments claim, without any evidence, that transgender people recruit and groom vulnerable children for sexual exploitation merely by being transgender in public — the very same prejudiced argument made about gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. The illogical conclusion that transgender people are innately predatory is all the more confounding and tragic when juxtaposed with the disproportionately high rates of sexual violence targeting transgender people compared to the general population.
Politicians who prioritize their extremist ideology above children’s well-being are leading directly to children’s untimely deaths by suicide. If these children do continue to live, they often live unfulfilling lives after being stripped of their rights, autonomy, and human dignity.
What can we do to protect trans youth?
There is a better way forward. Minnesota lawmakers, for instance, have chosen to defend the rights of trans children and youth. Governor Tim Walz signed an executive order in March 2023 protecting the rights of transgender people to receive gender-affirming healthcare.
Protecting the rights of transgender children and youth, especially those with disabilities, isn’t about being “woke.” It’s about the principles on which this country was founded: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. By denying trans people gender-affirming care or self-determination, you are curtailing their freedom of expression, reducing their quality of life, and, in too many cases, leading directly to their deaths. This is the kind of authoritarianism that typifies dictatorships and fascist policy.
We encourage you to resist these reactionary forces and support transgender people throughout the lifespan with science-backed policy that respects bodily autonomy, human dignity, and civil rights. Support for disability rights requires supporting the right to bodily autonomy, self-determination, and respectful health care for all transgender and intersex people as well.