State legislatures have introduced almost 400 anti-trans bills this year, and most of them focus on trans youth. These bills are drastically impacting their lives, restricting everything from how their gender identity is handled at school to the medical coverage they receive. Families are traveling for hours (sometimes moving permanently), crossing state lines to get the medical treatments they need and to escape bills and laws that could tear their families apart.
As the Director of the Youth & Family Program at Health Care Advocates International (HCAI), transgender youth regularly contact me from across the country for help, particularly from states with the most drastic gender-biased bills in play, like Florida, Alabama and Texas.
And the legal challenges keep coming, a sure sign that with every step forward the LGBTQ+ community takes two steps back. It is a trend of enormous concern to so many of us who work with trans and nonbinary youth. The sheer number of these bills and the attention they are being given mean that the voices of the intolerant minority are louder than our voices.
For TGNB youth and their families who live in states with proposed legislation against their existence, the spotlight on TDoV has dimmed, and for their own protection, these individuals cannot allow themselves to be seen nor celebrated. I encounter it every day. The number of youth in crisis is rising at an alarming rate. Kids who don’t get the acceptance and support they need within their homes, their schools or their peer groups feel depression and anxiety wash over them like a tidal wave. It’s crippling, and too often it leads to self-harm, even suicide.
It is a regular occurrence for me to work in pediatric psychiatric units with children who say, “I don’t want to live anymore. Because no one sees me for who I really am.” It is heartbreaking, and given the roadblocks that continue to be erected in their paths, it becomes increasingly more difficult for these children to trust and believe the people and organizations that are trying to help.
When I conduct school workshops to train educators and administrators, I often ask the audience, “Who here knows someone who is transgender?” In most cases, I see only a hand or two raised. I typically respond by saying, “Well, I am transgender so now you know someone!” They are often surprised but put at ease by my response. Then I say, “So now that you know I am trans, are you looking at me differently?”
I can tell that question challenges their thinking and I remind them that the TGNB community is really no different than everyone sitting in the room – we want to be treated with respect, acceptance and kindness.
Raising awareness is not only about being seen but also about being heard. Those of us in the TGNB community who have the privilege to be seen can come together and use our voices to support those who cannot yet speak out. We ask the LGBQ and cisgender communities to join us as well.
We must be visible for the invisible.
Health Care Advocates International stands beside those youth and their families who can’t celebrate openly and send the message that HCAI sees you, hears you and supports you.
As director of HCAI’s Youth and Families program, Tony Ferraiolo helps to provide a safe, supportive place for LGBTQ+ youth and their families. Tony joined the HCAI family in 2021. The program aims to build bridges within communities so every child can be their authentic self and walk a path of happiness filled with love and kindness.
After years of struggling with his own gender identity, Tony transitioned in 2005. Realizing that he went through this difficult time not knowing any other transgender person, he made it his life purpose to support LGBTQ+ youth and their families.
Tony is also a certified life coach, published author, and holds a teaching certification in mindfulness. He is co-founder of the Jim Collins Foundation, a nonprofit providing financial assistance for gender-confirming surgeries. Tony was the subject of the award-winning documentary A Self-Made Man. To learn more about Health Care Advocates International visit https://www.hcaillc.com/.
Editor’s note: This article mentions suicide. If you need to talk to someone now, call the Trans Lifeline at 1-877-565-8860. It’s staffed by trans people, for trans people. The Trevor Project provides a safe, judgement-free place to talk for LGBTQ youth at 1-866-488-7386. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.