Opinion: Your words can cost the lives of trans kids

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Anti-transgender rhetoric leads to stigma, and stigma leads to violence against our families, friends, co-workers, and neighbors.

Parents always want what is best for our children, and we can all agree that they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. But as the parents of an amazing kid who happens to be transgender, we've seen firsthand how in recent years many of our leaders — who think they know better than parents, medical organizations, and millions of doctors — have been treating our son, Daniel, with anything but that dignity and respect.

They are making it impossible for kids like Daniel to be their authentic selves. And we've seen how harmful the attacks on my kid from power-hungry politicians and pop culture icons going for cheap laughs can be.

When our family watches TV or opens up social media, we're often looking for an escape, just like everyone else — to laugh at a favorite sitcom or share memes with friends. But recently, it's been impossible to escape "jokes" that come at the expense of our son and the entire transgender community from comedians like Bill Maher, Ricky Gervais, and Dave Chappelle. Imagine turning on the TV and seeing a powerful person — who has so little on the line — make fun of your child.

It's no joking matter.

Anti-transgender rhetoric leads to stigma, and stigma leads to violence against our families, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. From Texas Gov. Greg Abbott threatening to take children away from their loving parents, to the 300-plus anti-trans bills that have been introduced across the country this year alone, to the epidemic of violence against Black and brown transgender women, families like our own have felt the impacts of bias and discrimination.

Our son came out as transgender when he was 8 years old. The coming-out experience for him and our family was ostracizing at times and difficult; we felt very alone.

Some immediately judged Daniel and my family, and we even struggled to understand what being transgender meant. Over time, as people got to know us, we found a community that accepts and loves us. But now we've got celebrities and extremist politicians amplifying harmful propaganda that can change how people see us.

For the first four months of this year, we gave testimony in the Arizona state Capitol, trying to put an end to the onslaught of 17 anti-trans bills. Imagine our family — our teenage son — in that moment feeling the sting of hateful testimony attacking his very existence.

As a parent, I ask you, would you want this for your child?

While our family and so many others keep fighting hate, we wonder if people like Maher or Gervais really understand the power of their platforms. It is because of this power that far too many figures regurgitate dangerous rhetoric that has been proven to negatively impact the mental health of transgender youth.

According to The Trevor Project, "transgender and nonbinary youth were 2 to 2.5 times as likely to experience depressive symptoms, seriously consider suicide, and attempt suicide compared to their cisgender LGBQ peers." Among Black transgender and nonbinary youth, 59% seriously considered suicide, and more than 1 in 4 attempted suicide in the past year.

Let's be clear: The reason we see disturbing statistics like these is not transgender youth being who they are; it's due to a fundamental lack of the support and affirmation our children deserve. Transgender youth who receive desired gender-affirming care are as much as 60% less likely to experience depression and 73% less likely to report suicidal thoughts than those without access to gender-affirming care.

Transgender and non-binary people also face increased violence just for living their lives. The Human Rights Campaign's Transgender Justice Initiative has reported at least 19 transgender people shot or killed by other violent means this year. In 2021, the deadliest year on record, at least 57 transgender people, mainly transgender women of color, were killed.

When anti-trans discrimination and violence go largely unreported or ignored by everyone from the media to law enforcement to popular entertainers, it means hardly anyone in a position of influence or power is regularly challenging biases that inevitably lead to more violence.

All the more reason why people in power, including influential entertainers, should be using their platforms to spread awareness and support transgender people. It's time to learn and speak the truth instead of caving to insecurities and ignorance. It's a matter of choosing to help protect fundamental civil rights. And it can be a matter of life or death for many.

Lizette and Jose Trujillo are Human Rights Campaign volunteers and members of the HRC Foundation's Parents for Transgender Equality National Council. They live in Arizona.