UIndy community responds to ban on gender-affirming care for Indiana Youth

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A bill banning gender-affirming medical care for minors in Indiana was signed into law by Gov. Eric Holcomb on April 5, 2023. Senate Bill 480 prohibits medical professionals from “knowingly providing gender transition procedures to an individual who is less than 18 years of age” and “aiding or abetting another physician or practitioner in the provision of gender transition procedures to a minor.” The law, authored by Republican Sens. Tyler Johnson, Ed Charbonneau and Gary Byrne, takes effect on July 1, 2023.

University of Indianapolis Assistant Professor of Sociology Elizabeth Ziff said that “gender-affirming care” is an umbrella term for a variety of practices utilized by an individual to align their physicality with the gender that they identify with. These practices include hormone therapy, puberty blockers and surgeries to augment the body, she said.

According to Ziff, there are currently providers in Indiana who offer gender-affirming care services, but they are not easy to access. Finding a provider in one’s insurance network, long waiting lists and socioeconomic barriers can make accessing care more difficult, she said. Ziff said the new law will not only prohibit minors from accessing gender-affirming medical care but end access for minors already receiving care, as well.

“Let’s say you are maybe on hormone-blocking therapy or are on some type of hormone replacement therapy, I believe the stipulation is that you have six months until you have to stop this, once the law goes into effect,” Ziff said. “… So by December if you are somebody who is already receiving that care, your doctor is supposed to stop that.”

Sophomore English major Danni Conn came out as a transgender male in 2019. Conn said that after coming out, he began starting the process of getting his name changed and taking testosterone shots. Starting the transitioning process was difficult, but it saved his life and he was able to get through it with support from his mom and sister, he said.

“It [transitioning] definitely saved my life and helped me just be so much more comfortable, not only in my body but just in society, itself,” Conn said. “Because getting misgendered and everything is definitely not fun to go through… My mom’s always been my backbone, she’s always been my number-one supporter. It’s really always been her and my sister. I’m just very grateful that I had them in my life. And even when I was going through hard times mentally and then through the transitioning process, I was able to have them be there for me.”

Conn said he felt scared for his younger trans friends when he heard about SB 480. He has friends who have begun receiving gender-affirming medical care and now will have it taken away from them. According to Conn, not receiving this care can cause depressive thoughts, but other trans youth seeing they have others who are there for them helps a lot.

“I worry about the lives of the trans youth a lot, especially now, with this bill being passed and signed,” Conn said. “So I’m just making sure that I’m reaching out to them and letting them know that it’s a bump in your process, but there’s bumps in all processes. Even before this, I had many bumps in my process and in my journey, but there are things that you have to overcome. And I think that that’s something: them knowing that they have people there for them, and they have people there to support them. I definitely think that that helps them know that their life still has meaning, even though the one thing that’s helping them the most is being taken away from them.”

Junior art major Cj Sparks identifies as genderfluid. For them, gender-affirming care is seeing a therapist. Their therapist is able to help them in multiple ways, including talking through gender dysphoria and exploring options for medical care, such as testosterone and surgery. 

“I’ve been able to talk through if I want to use this name, have my therapist be the first person to use that and see if it feels comfortable [or be the] first person to use a certain pronoun, to talk through the pros and cons of different physical transition things, how to approach coming out or talking about different things with parents or siblings or friends, dealing with repercussions of those things,” Sparks said. “And having someone who is always going to be on my side in the way that they’re going to be supportive, it’s definitely very helpful.”

Sparks said that while they have not pursued medical care for physical transition, they may still want to seek medical gender-affirming care in the future. They said that it is scary to see that even trans adults in other states are having their rights questioned. According to Sparks, only negative outcomes can result from the ban on gender-affirming care for minors in Indiana.

“If I—in the state that I was in as a minor seeking gender-affirming care—if I had not been able to access that [therapy], I may not be here today,” Sparks said. “And I believe that will be the case for many minors, and I hope that they are able to access some kind of mental health care, even if it’s not for the things that they’re seeking.”

According to Ziff, the ban will be detrimental for trans youth, as gender-affirming care improves mental health and lowers incidences of self-harm. Communities in Indiana will be negatively affected as a whole, she said.

“Laws are important because of what they signal as far as values, and this is a huge signal that essentially transgender people don’t belong,” Ziff said. “I would not be surprised if we see rises in incidences of things like hate crimes and other types of issues like that. You are probably going to see some people choosing to leave the state because they cannot access the care.”

Holcomb said in a statement that gender-affirming medical care should occur in adulthood. Ziff said this statement seems disingenuous to her, as many advocates and activists believe that this law is just the beginning of more laws against gender-affirming care, and some lawmakers’ goal is to eventually ban all types of transition at any age.

According to Ziff, it is very rare that minors receive irreversible procedures. Many interventions take place before any procedures can happen. Children and young adults should not be dismissed so easily when it comes to making these decisions, she said.

“There’s also this kind of assumption that kids are making choices that they won’t be able to change,” Ziff said. “And that’s not quite the case. And even if it were the case, let’s just say, I don’t know that we should dismiss children or young adults so easily. We tend to clump all kids together. What an eight-year-old decides, I think, is drastically different than what a 12-year-old decides than what a 16-year-old decides, as far as understanding long-term consequences and bigger picture issues. To even just kind of wave our wand and let make this blanket idea that somehow 18 is this magical dividing line between where you can decide something about your body versus can’t… I don’t know, that he [Holcomb] gets to make that decision for youth, but also for families. If a parent has felt that their kid is aware and rational, and they’ve seen the doctors and they’ve seen the psychiatrist and the psychologist and the other practitioners, I don’t know why that decision doesn’t get to get made in that setting.”

UIndy can support trans students by being vocal, Ziff said. It is important that trans students see the community standing up for them and feel that campus is a safe place. She encourages students to get involved by reaching out to state representatives and congresspeople.

Conn said that the entire trans community needs support, not only right now, but always. He said that he wants people to understand that gender-affirming medical care saved his life and that it’s a life-saving thing for trans youth to receive. He said trans people do not just wake up one day and decide to get big surgeries; it is a thought process and a big decision.

“Even if this wasn’t going on, we still need it [support]; we’re still a community that gets pushed down,” Conn said. “And we’re not always heard, because people always say, ‘it’s a phase’ or ‘you’ll change your mind in a couple months’ or something like that. But it’s not something that will change. It’s just who we are. I think that a lot of people just need to realize that we’re not going through a phase. We were just born in the wrong body, we were born in a way that we didn’t want to be, but we’re trying to make the changes to be who we want to be. So having people around us, letting us know that who we are is okay and we shouldn’t be ashamed of it, that would mean everything. That would be great.”

On April 18, the Office of Inclusion and Equity sent out a campus-wide email regarding recent LGBTQ legislation in Indiana.

“As we watch the progress of LGBTQIA+ legislation within the Indiana State House and across our country, we wish to remind the campus community of the things that are most important to us, which includes diversity, equity, and inclusion,” the OIE’s email said. “All members of our community are supported and accepted. LGBTQIA+ students belong at UIndy and in Indiana. Inclusion and equity are core components of the educational mission at the University of Indianapolis, and we strive to uphold these values by instilling the structures and processes needed to better meet academic, cultural and social needs of all entering the educational environment. All students are welcomed and encouraged to engage with us authentically, and to have conversations with each other that are thoughtful, considerate, and kind. “Resources for the LGBTQ community at UIndy can be found on the university’s website.

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