June 16, 2021
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KU researcher says hostile policies impact well-being of LGBTQ youths

Originally published by Kansas Reflector on March 21, 2021:

When the Kansas Senate debated and then passed the bill aimed at preventing transgender girls from participating in sports, a focus of the 2.5-hour debate was whether or not this kind of legislation harms transgender and LGBTQ children. 

Sen. Renee Erickson, a Wichita Republican, was outspoken in opposition to the idea suggested by Senate Democrats that the bill would lead to suicides in a vulnerable population of children. 

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“I find it incredibly insulting to use the hyperbole that there will be blood on our hands,” Erickson said, “that somehow they’re insulted by facts, by trying to provide a level playing field for fair competition for girls, and they want to take it everywhere but there. Because there is no logical, factual scientific basis for being opposed to this bill.”

But a researcher at the University of Kansas who studies mental health in transgender and LGBTQ youths said there is ample research showing how bills like this have a negative mental health impact on trans kids. 

Megan Paceley, an associate professor at the KU school of social welfare, has been researching the connection between hostile policies and trans youths’ well-being and has found that states with more hostile policies lead to worse mental health outcomes for trans and LGBTQ youths. Paceley’s study focused on interviewing transgender youths in two midwestern states and asked them about the rhetoric in their communities and states. 

“Something that stands out is even if a policy is never enacted, just having the debate around the policy, having people propose something that was potentially discriminatory, was harmful,” she said. “Because it sends them a message. Hearing that your state or your school or your community, wherever that policy is being debated, think that there’s something wrong with you. That’s a really harmful message to transgender young people.” 

She added that beyond the idea that bills like this can harm transgender children, there is no research or evidence showing that allowing transgender kids to play on sports teams leads to harmful outcomes for cisgender kids.

“It sets up this divide right between women who are not transgender and women who are,” she said. “So what I would say is that transgender women are women, transgender girls are girls and if we’re talking about empowering women and girls, we need to be talking about all women and girls.”

She said that on a big picture scale, trans and LGBT youths have higher rates of suicide and depression not because they are trans or LGBT but because of how they are treated by society and their communities. She noted that in states with more inclusive policies, trans and LGBT youths have lower rates of mental health issues.

“When trans youth have supportive people, resources, policies, they can mitigate those harmful attacks,” she said.

Under the proposed legislation, which still requires approval from the House before going to the governor, universities, public schools and the private schools they compete against would be required to sort teams into one of five categories: boys, girls, men, women, or coed. Participation would be limited to an individual’s corresponding “biological sex.”

There was controversy during Wednesday’s debate about who wrote the bill in question. While Erickson said the Kansas Revisor of Statutes wrote the bill, it is virtually identical to legislation introduced in two dozen other states.

The legislation apparently was forged by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a group that claims a “homosexual agenda” will destroy Christianity and society. The Southern Poverty Law Center says the group has supported other anti-LGBTQ policies, including state-sanctioned sterilization of transgender people abroad.

In other states, passage of the law has prompted immediate legal action. The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas has promised to file a lawsuit if it passes here.

“Trans youth are seeing how little their elected representatives value their lives and contributions to our state,” said Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes, D-Lenexa. “I am heartbroken for them and promise that I will continue to fight for their dignity and rights.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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