The Florida Department of Health has released new guidelines that attempt to ban gender-affirming treatments for transgender youth in the state. The guidelines, released on April 20, recommend against gender-affirming care for youth in the state in any capacity. Going a step further than anti-trans legislation that has been enacted in other Republican-run states, Florida’s guidelines, which are nonbinding, seek to ban not only medical transitioning for trans kids, but also social transitioning. Here’s what families need to know.
Florida seeks to ban social transitioning for trans kids
Florida’s surgeon general Joseph A. Ladapo released new guidelines on transgender care that should be made available in the state. Taking aim at a recent fact sheet by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that clearly states gender-affirming care for youth should be supported, Florida recommended against trans youth transitioning in any capacity.
Citing a “lack of conclusive evidence, and the potential for long-term, irreversible effects,” the new guidelines state that kids who identify as gender diverse or transgender should not be offered gender-affirming care — including social transition.
Social transition is usually the first step that a transgender person takes in their transition, and it is the only step that prepubertal trans children can take. It may include using a new name, new pronouns, getting a new haircut, or adopting a new style that allows them to affirm and express their gender identity. At any time, a person who has socially transitioned can choose to go back to their old name, pronouns, and style — social transition is completely reversible.
However, Florida’s new guidelines clearly state that “social gender transition should not be a treatment option for children or adolescents.” This is despite the fact that socially transitioning during childhood brings mental health outcomes like depression and anxiety down to rates typical of cisgender children, whereas trans kids who haven’t transitioned tend to have much worse mental health.
In addition, the guidelines also ban any gender-affirming medical care, including hormone therapy, puberty blockers, or gender-affirming surgeries (which isn’t something generally offered to trans youth). Gender-affirming medical care can save lives: One study found that when trans and non-binary youth ages 13 to 21 received such care, their depression rates lessened by 60% and suicidal thoughts by 73%.
The new guidelines may be supporting conversion therapy
In place of gender-affirming care, the directive states that minors who are “experiencing gender dysphoria” should be provided “counseling” and “social support.”
Without detailing what counseling would entail exactly, it can be assumed that the therapy sessions would steer clear of affirming care, given the ban on providers supporting social transition. This essentially means that the only legal care a trans or queer kid could access in the state is conversion therapy, designed to attempt to change a person’s gender identity and expression (a practice that’s banned in several countries including Canada and New Zealand).
States across the country are attacking trans youth’s access to gender-affirming care
Similar legislation taking aim at gender-affirming care for trans youth have been filed in several other states over the past few months. Last April, Arkansas became the first state to ban on gender-affirming care, and Texas quickly followed. Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s order equates gender-affirming care to child abuse and has already sparked several lawsuits for youth in the state.
What makes Florida’s ban stand out is that it’s the first state to name social transition a part of the restrictions.
Major medical associations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, and the American Medical Association, have made it clear that gender-affirming care isn’t only clinically appropriate for children and adults, but access to this care can be life-saving.