Guest Opinion: Florida's ban on gender-affirming care is dangerous for us all

  • by Kellan E. Baker
  • Wednesday November 9, 2022
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Kellan E. Baker, Ph.D. Photo: Courtesy Kellan E. Baker
Kellan E. Baker, Ph.D. Photo: Courtesy Kellan E. Baker

Our nation's political landscape is frightening, to say the least. Every day, I read new headlines about political extremists who are attacking the rights of LGBTQ+ people in school, at work, and in the doctor's office. In fact, just a few days ago, Florida's Board of Medicine took the unprecedented step of banning doctors from providing gender-affirming care. This ban has grave repercussions for the health of Florida's transgender youth and threatens all of us by inviting politicians to make unscientific decisions about patients' access to medical care.

As a health care researcher and advocate, I am appalled at the continued disregard for scientific evidence that supports gender-affirming care. Every major medical association in the United States endorses gender-affirming care for transgender people. This includes the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, Federation of Pediatric Organizations, and the American Psychological Association. These expert endorsements reflect a consensus that age-appropriate and individualized gender-affirming care is medically necessary and life-saving.

Contrary to what anti-trans extremists want you to believe, decades of evidence demonstrate that gender-affirming care is safe and effective. The only intervention for children before puberty is social transition, which is endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics and involves nothing more than allowing children to wear the clothing they feel most comfortable in or to go by a name that they choose. Transgender youth can begin medical affirmation once they hit puberty, which is when they may experience increased gender dysphoria as their bodies rapidly change. At this point, transgender adolescents can talk to their doctors about starting puberty-delay medications. These fully reversible treatments give them time to freely explore their gender identity. Later in adolescence, transgender youth may receive hormone therapy, which allows them to go through a puberty that aligns with their gender. Puberty-delay medications have been safely used for decades and were originally developed to treat cisgender young people who were starting puberty at the wrong time.

Despite the decades of evidence demonstrating the safety and effectiveness of gender-affirming care, political extremists continue to exploit misinformation about transgender people. Florida's ban itself is not based on research — rather, it's fueled solely by misinformation and political punditry. I took a look at the contributing authors in the report that led to this ban, and I was disappointed but unsurprised to learn that they are not actually experts in transgender health or even general pediatric care. One of them is a dentist, and the other is a postdoctoral fellow in biostatistics. These are hardly the people I want to weigh in on decisions about gender-affirming care.

Anti-trans extremists are succeeding in stoking fear and division in our communities. They seek to score political points by manipulating society's understanding of what gender-affirming care is and who transgender youth are. But transgender youth are not pawns in a political game. They are young people who want to experience love, joy, and the ability to be their authentic selves. We know that making gender-affirming care accessible improves the mental health and quality of life for transgender youth. Our young people thrive when they are supported by their families, pediatricians, and mental health providers to feel at home in who they are.

Florida's ban isn't just an attack on trans people. It's a dangerous harbinger of what's to come across our nation when we let political ideology drive health care decisions. When it comes to medical care, let's listen to the professionals who know the science, follow the standards, and are committed to the well-being of their patients. All of us need to speak up and let our elected leaders know we won't let politics get in the way of the health care we need.

Kellan E. Baker, Ph.D., a queer-identified man, is the executive director and chief learning officer of the Whitman-Walker Institute in Washington, D.C., one of the country's premiere organizations focused on advancing the health and wellbeing of people facing barriers to quality care, particularly LGBTQ people and people living with HIV, through the strategic integration of clinical expertise, cutting-edge research, quality education, and effective policy change.

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