Michigan Republican Sen. Lana Theis recently introduced Senate Bill 218 that will discriminate against and prevent transgender youth from playing school sports consistent with their gender identity. Last week, several Ozone House staff and community members met virtually with Theis to educate her on the harm this bill will cause to transgender youth. Our group shared with the senator about the ways rejection increases negative health outcomes for transgender youth. After sharing this evidence and personal testimonies, our group asked her to withdraw her discriminatory and harmful bill. She said she will not withdraw the bill because she believes transgender youth are a threat to a “level playing field.” The message of this bill is rejection and rejection kills.
There is currently a coordinated legislative attack going on across the nation, aimed at transgender youth. More than two dozen states have recently introduced a version of this same discriminatory and unconstitutional bill. Mississippi was the first to sign it into law a few weeks ago. Another sits on the governor of South Dakota’s desk waiting to be signed into law. These bills are paving the way for other states to enact similar hateful legislation that is misleadingly framed as a protection of women’s rights and Title IX.
We know that gay and transgender youth who are highly rejected by their families and communities are more than eight times as likely to have attempted suicide, nearly six times as likely to report high levels of depression and more than three times as likely to use illegal drugs, according to research from the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University.
This harmful legislation is another form of rejection, as young people are excluded from participating both athletically and socially with their peers. This also furthers shame and stigma during a time when youth are doing the important work of identity formation: figuring out who they are in relation to the world.
Many of the young people we work with at Ozone House identify as LGBTQ+ and are experiencing homelessness or other types of housing instability. LGBTQ+ Youth is 40 percent more likely to experience homelessness than their peers. Youth come to us in crisis as a direct result of the deadly rhetoric that gay and transgender people don’t belong, a message perpetuated by this bill. Individuals such as Sen. Theis are looked at as experts and their assertions are accepted as truth, leading to hatred and exclusion. As hate crimes against transgender individuals continue to rise, LGBTQ+ youth need our support, protection and validation, not a targeted assault on their identity.