Mea­sure puts trans­gen­der chil­dren in harm’s way

Austin American-Statesman - - VIEWPOINTS - DR. MICHAEL NORTHROP Spe­cial Con­trib­u­tor

As a pe­di­a­tri­cian, I have ded­i­cated my life to the well-be­ing and pro­tec­tion of chil­dren.

A large part of my job is to care for and ad­vo­cate for those who have no voice. My wife, also a pe­di­a­tri­cian, un­der­went three years of ex­tra train­ing to spe­cial­ize in car­ing for chil­dren who have been sex­u­ally or phys­i­cal abused. Through­out our ca­reers in pe­di­atrics, we have seen far too many chil­dren who were not kept safe from such preda­tors. Be­cause of our back­grounds, we feel uniquely qual­i­fied to com­ment on Se­nate Bill 6, the so-called Bath­room Bill cur­rently be­ing de­bated in the Texas Leg­is­la­ture.

Lt. Gov. Dan Pa­trick said at an event spon­sored by the Fam­ily Re­search Coun­cil — a group with a his­tory of spread­ing false in­for­ma­tion about the gay com­mu­nity and which is rec­og­nized as a hate group by the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter — that SB 6 is “to pro­vide com­mon sense, com­mon de­cency, pri­vacy and pub­lic safety to women.”

Although well-mean­ing, this bill fails at pro­vid­ing any of these stated goals and un­for­tu­nately will make it more likely that trans­gen­der chil­dren will be phys­i­cally or sex­u­ally as­saulted.

The Amer­i­can Academy of Pe­di­atrics states that “poli­cies ex­clud­ing trans­gen­der youth from fa­cil­i­ties con­sis­tent with their gen­der iden­tity have detri­men­tal ef­fects on their phys­i­cal and men­tal health, safety and well-be­ing.” This state­ment is based on the best and most cur­rent available data.

Women and chil­dren are not at risk from the trans com­mu­nity — and pub­lic re­strooms in gen­eral are not risk ar­eas of sex­ual as­sault for chil­dren. Nearly all chil­dren who are sex­u­ally abused are abused in the home by some­one they know, not in the bath­room by a stranger. We can­not re­mem­ber a sin­gle case where a trans per­son sex­u­ally or phys­i­cally as­saulted a child.

Trans­gen­der youth are much more likely to be vic­tims of as­sault — not be the per­pe­tra­tors — and this risk in­creases if they are forced to use the bath­room of their bi­o­log­i­cal sex.

Half al­ready feel un­safe in school be­cause of ver­bal and phys­i­cal ha­rass­ment, and such ha­rass­ment di­rectly leads to teen sui­cide, the lead­ing cause of death in this group of young peo­ple. When trans­gen­der youth are al­lowed to live as their iden­ti­fied gen­der in a safe, sup­port­ive en­vi­ron­ment, the rates of de­pres­sion and sui­cide re­turn to “nor­mal” rates for this age group. Gen­der iden­tity, like sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, can­not be changed. These youth can­not be “con­verted.” Truly, this is a life­and-death is­sue and I would hope that we can all agree that chil­dren should feel safe at school.

If he is truly in­ter­ested in ad­vo­cat­ing and pro­tect­ing chil­dren from sex­ual abuse, Pa­trick and the Texas Leg­is­la­ture would do well to rely on real data prior to en­act­ing laws or stig­ma­tiz­ing a vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tion.

Cre­at­ing a cul­ture that en­sures chil­dren will be be­lieved if they speak out af­ter an as­sault is a solid first step. En­sur­ing that such re­ports are taken se­ri­ously by police and that per­pe­tra­tors are pros­e­cuted is another. Em­pow­er­ing chil­dren with early, com­pre­hen­sive sex ed­u­ca­tion and knowl­edge of their bod­ies is also es­sen­tial as chil­dren of­ten lack the vo­cab­u­lary to de­scribe what hap­pened to them. And of course, sup­port­ing moth­ers in their en­deav­ors to work and se­cure child and health care while en­sur­ing their own safety would in turn pro­tect their chil­dren.

My wife and I have two daugh­ters. It is un­der­stand­able to feel un­com­fort­able with a new sit­u­a­tion or pop­u­la­tion that has un­til re­cently been nearly silent. As a so­ci­ety we must ex­am­ine our dis­com­fort and as­sess the ac­tual risk to us and to our chil­dren rather than give in to prejudice and fear.

The fact is that the trans com­mu­nity poses no threat to any­one and the cur­rent law be­ing de­bated will not make our chil­dren any safer. Pe­di­a­tri­cians have long un­der­stood that stigma­ti­za­tion, marginal­iza­tion, bul­ly­ing and si­lenc­ing are the true threats to our chil­dren. Let’s do some­thing to stop that.


Max Brig­gle (right) holds a sign as he joins other mem­bers of the trans­gen­der com­mu­nity dur­ing a rally on the steps of the Texas Capi­tol on Mon­day. The group op­poses Se­nate Bill 6, which would re­quire peo­ple to use pub­lic re­strooms and locker rooms that cor­re­spond with the sex on their birth cer­tifi­cate.


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