• Kellan Baker, executive director, Whitman-Walker Institute
  • Emerald Habecker, freelance journalist, patient receiving gender-affirming care
  • Alyse Lancaster, chair of the department of strategic communication, University of Miami, and parent of a transgender teen and trans rights advocate
  • Tony La Mantia, transman and patient receiving gender-affirming care. 
  • Kim Walsh-Childers, professor of journalism, University of Florida (moderator)

By Katherine C. Gilyard

Bans on gender-affirming care — proposed and passed — receive such pervasive coverage, they permeate the news cycle. By February of this year, more than 80 bills seeking to restrict access to gender-affirming care were introduced around the country.

If passed, these bans threaten the care of approximately 58,000 transgender youth. A closer look at the data shows that loss of care would exacerbate the daunting reality that trans youths/people face in their lives. 

“My son was persistent and consistent in telling me about this one part of his transition. He said, ‘Mom, if I didn’t have the support when I was transitioning, I wouldn’t be here today,’” recalled Alyse Lancaster.  “If I didn’t give that gender-affirming care to them then my son wouldn’t be here today. It saved his life.”

Quick data sources include  The Trevor Project, which estimates that more than 1.8 million LGBTQ youth (13-24) seriously consider suicide each year in the U.S. — and at least one attempts suicide every 45 seconds. Other health threats:

  • Transgender and nonbinary youth face elevated risk for depression, thoughts of suicide, and attempts compared to youth who are cisgender and straight, including cisgender members of the LGBTQ community. 
  • A 2020 peer-reviewed study by The Trevor Project’s researchers, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that transgender and nonbinary youth were 2 to 2.5 times as likely to experience depressive symptoms, seriously consider suicide, and attempt suicide compared to their cisgender LGBQ peers.

Journalists should keep several ideas in mind when covering gender-affirming care bans and other issues impacting trans youth/people. 

  • Trans people are not a controversy or a problem, nor should they be referred to or framed as an abstract social phenomenon; they’re human beings.
  • Journalists should be listening to and featuring the voices of trans people in their stories, including young trans people. 
  • Many organizations present themselves as science-based or advocacy groups when in fact, they are the opposite. Journalists should interrogate their credibility. Tip: Look at the year the organization was created or “research” paper was published. The newer it is, the more likely there is a reason to take a closer look. “Use actual evidence from actual experts,” Baker said. 
  • Look at each organization’s sources of funding because there’s a lot of “dark money” from anti-trans/trans-hate groups behind some of these organizations, Baker said, even when the name doesn’t reveal it. 
  • Keep an eye on the forest as well as the trees: Some aspects of trans people’s lives are common, and some are rare. Don’t focus on the rare at the expense of the common. For example, a very small portion of trans people decide to detransition. While it happens, it is a rarity, Baker said, and often it’s a direct result of the financial, medical and social difficulties they faced living as their true selves. While this aspect warrants coverage, it’s important to provide context, resources, and framing to reduce the risk of adding to harm and giving hate groups, trolls, and people with ill intention for the communities fodder to bolster their agendas. 
  • Context, context, context: Think about how your writing will be used and who will see it. Think about your sources and the lives they have to live after the story is published.
  • Be mindful of that vulnerability and space that they’re sharing with you, and the trust they have in you to handle them/their stories with care. 
  • Additional resources and data:

Katherine C. Gilyard is a health equity reporter and visual journalist. She is a Frances Ellen Watkins Harper editorial fellow with the 19th News.