'Politics Has No Place Here,' AAP Says About Transgender Care

Jaleesa Baulkman

March 30, 2021

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a statement condemning state legislation introduced across the country that would prohibit the medical treatment of children who identify as transgender.

"Politics has no place here. Transgender children, like all children, just want to belong. We will fight state by state, in the courts, and on the national stage to make sure they know they do," said the American Academy of Pediatrics, an organization that recommends that youth who identify as transgender have access to comprehensive, gender-affirming and "developmentally appropriate" health care.

There has been a lot of controversy among physicians surrounding gender-affirming care for children. In 2019, three separate groups of physicians questioned the hormonal treatment of children and adolescents with gender dysphoria, saying more research is needed to support gender-affirming care recommendations from groups such as the AAP. In addition, California-based endocrinologist Michael K. Laidlaw, MD, called the use of puberty blockers – medication used to delay or prevent the onset of puberty – an "experiment" and "public health problem."

Some of the bills circulating would prohibit gender-affirming care for children and penalize pediatricians and other physicians for providing such care. Other bills would prevent transgender youth from participating in sports or on athletic teams according to their gender identity, requiring them to join teams aligned with the sex they were assigned at birth.

Jason Rafferty, MD, a pediatrician who authored AAP's 2018 policy statement encouraging pediatricians to provide gender-affirmative care to children and adolescents, said in an interview that these proposed state bills are targeting a vulnerable population at a vulnerable time.

"You have this marginalized group and right in the midst of a pandemic – and [social isolation] – and you have these policies coming out that are really targeting the most vulnerable," said Rafferty, who practices at the Adolescent Healthcare Center at Hasbro Children's Hospital, Providence, R.I. "Some of the proposed policies would ensure that some of these transgender kids wouldn't have access to basic medical care [or access to areas] where pediatricians are affirming these kids and creating a safe environment for them."

M. Brett Cooper, MD, of pediatrics at UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, said in an interview that the proposed state legislations are based on personal beliefs, not evidence-based care.

He said the AAP is speaking out because many of these proposed state legislatures are advancing bills that would affect gender-diverse children.

"Many of these bills are making it close to passing both chambers of a state legislature and thus sent to the governor for approval," Cooper said. "In past legislative sessions, bills such as these have never it made out of committee in either a state House or state Senate."

Early in March, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem tweeted that she was "excited to sign" a bill that would prevent children who are transgender from participating in sports or on athletic teams according to their gender identity, requiring them to join teams aligned with the sex they were assigned at birth.

Meanwhile, previous studies have shown that teens whose gender identity does not align with their sex assigned at birth were more likely to report a suicide attempt, compared with cisgender youth. A 2015 study has attributed this increased risk of suicide to marginalization, social exclusion, and trauma. The bills being proposed may exacerbate this, according to Rafferty.

These bills point in the direction of approaches and models that research shows may be harmful to transgender children, he said.

"Beyond that, policies that are out there affecting participation in sports and other activities really just draw attention to these youth in unnecessary ways and really puts their physical and mental health at risk in a school environment," he added.

"Whether it's health care, school, community, or home [these policies] just really create a very hostile and dangerous environment toward a population that already is at significant risk," Rafferty said.

The AAP's clinical care guidelines for children who identify as transgender state that pediatricians who provide gender-affirmative care and speak with children and their families about gender issues help foster an environment of nurturance and support.

"Many people think that the care provided to gender diverse young people is rogue," Cooper said. "Pediatric gender clinics are often either multidisciplinary or have a readily accessible team, including social work, mental health, and the physician. Medical care for gender diverse youth follows well-established standards of care."

Rafferty said it is important for care providers to support children and teenagers who identify as transgender by creating a safe space and helping them identify what they need.

"There's a lot out there that really tries to unite gender and biological sex together, saying that gender can be reduced to your anatomy," Rafferty said. "But I think what we're coming to appreciate is that our sense of identity is much more complex than simply our genes or biology."

Rafferty is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Society of Adolescent Health and Medicine, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Cooper is a columnist for Pediatric News and is on the board of trustees for the Texas Medical Association.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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