The American Anthropological Association opposes the recent introduction of more than 100 anti-transgender and transgender youth bills in 33 states across the nation. The proposed bills are attempts to directly criminalize the provision of gender-affirming healthcare, redefine child abuse to include gender-affirming parenting, exclude trans-youth from participation in sports, and force government agencies to report on gendered behavior. Misleadingly characterized as child protection, these are drastic attempts to curtail children’s expressions of gender, and install the state as adjudicator of their proper forms. Such efforts contradict scientific evidence, including the wealth of anthropological scholarship on gender and sex. They also contradict the recommendations of international experts on transgender medicine as well as major respected health care organizations in the United States. We strongly oppose current proposed legislation and any future similar proposals on these grounds.
The recent passage of the Arkansas S.A.F.E. Act, just one of the numerous pieces of legislation attacking the rights of young people and their families to access health care, draws deeply flawed conclusions from outdated and contested literature. Medical interventions such as endocrine replacement therapies that are glossed in the bill as “experimental” have in fact been in use for decades. This bill, and others using identical language, acknowledge the value and endorse the use of such intervention for some young people—just not for those experiencing gender dysphoria. This blatant hypocrisy is a poorly masked attempt to legally enshrine the idea of “biological sex” as socially fixed and medically definable—though there remains no single medical standard by which all humans can be reliably sorted into a binary male/female sex classification. Anthropologists and others have long shown sex and gender to be historically and geographically contextual, deeply entangled, and dynamically mutable categories. We must, therefore, reject any attempts to legislatively deny this complexity—especially when under the histrionic banner of “saving the children.”
As anthropologists, as allies, and as people who identify as queer and transgender, we state unequivocally that any attempt to legislate the expression and experience of gender, including limiting access to healthcare and sports participation on the basis of gender identity, is deeply harmful—not only to transgender youth but to American society. Transgender and gender diverse identities have long existed, and we are committed to upholding the value and dignity of transgender people. This is a coordinated attack and an attempt to weaponize gender, which violates young Americans’ rights across race, class, citizenship, and region. We oppose these efforts and believe that a more just future is possible; one where gender diversity is welcomed and supported rather than marginalized and policed.