Director, Commonwealth Policy Center

Should children be able to determine their own gender? A group of health professionals who provide care for transgender patients in Kentucky think so. In a recent op-ed in the Lexington Herald-Leader, 13 medical professionals consisting of medical doctors, nurses, psychologists, and counselors said they had “outright distress” over legislation they believe would “create numerous obstacles to children’s autonomy and self-care at school.” They also believe it “would actually threaten the lives of transgender children.”

The diverse group of health care providers made it clear they were not speaking on behalf of the University of Kentucky but they failed to precisely explain what the two bills they opposed would do. SB 114 prevents biological males from competing in girls’ high school sports. HB 321 prevents parents and caregivers of children to medically transition their children away from their born biological sex.

Fifty years ago, federal Title IX law gave female athletes in public schools the opportunity to compete against one another. SB 114 preserves that hard-fought right by keeping biologically born boys from dominating girls’ sports competitions as is currently happening in other states.

Until last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified the incongruent psychological state with one’s born sex as “gender identity disorder.” Allowing children to determine their own gender and the adult affirmation of such choices as best for children is a recent phenomenon. But can a child really understand the import of such a choice?

HB 321 presumes that children, whose brains aren’t fully developed and have limited life experiences, cannot make rational, life-changing decisions that may render them infertile. Kentucky is one of nine states in 2020 moving to protect the biological integrity of children. This stems from a case in Texas last year where a mother began transitioning one of her 7-year old twin sons to become a girl. She changed his name, put him in a dress, and sent him to school as a girl—all over the father’s objections.

Interestingly, a few medical associations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, endorse parental affirmation of their child’s gender dysphoria. It’s difficult to understand how trained scientists who dwell on the objective can place a person’s psychological state over indisputable biology. Differences between male and female are not only external and reproductive, but drill down to the genetic level of their very being.

HB 321 essentially protects children from untested experimentation. There is no research indicating the long-term effects of high doses of hormones on pre-pubescent children. Nor are there long-term studies that show that gender-dysphoric children are happier and better-adjusted people because they’ve been affirmed in their gender dysphoria. In fact, the opposite is indicated.

Dr. Paul McHugh, former chair of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, told the College Fix in an interview last fall that medical treatment of transgender minors is “reckless and irresponsible.” McHugh said “[Doctors] don’t have evidence that [the treatment] will be the right one. Many people are doing what amounts to an experiment on these young people without telling them it’s an experiment.”

Just as children grow into adulthood and their bodies develop, so do their minds, often bringing any gender dysphoric feelings into alignment with their born biological sex. A study from London’s Portman Clinic of Children and Vanderbilt University found that minors who identified with transgender feelings “spontaneously lost those feelings” over time. In fact, 70-80 percent eventually identified with their biological sex in adulthood.

The group of Lexington medical professionals are asking their fellow Kentuckians to support SB 85, which bans conversion therapy. Some types of conversion therapy are controversial. However, SB 85 bans any kind of sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) including pastoral fee-based counseling. This essentially institutionalizes LGBT identities as an indisputable healthy choice for young people. It also discounts religious counsel and insulates children’s LGBT choices from the realm of moral and spiritual instruction.

It’s tough to argue with a diverse group of medical professionals who make health recommendations for children. But it’s risky to suggest that affirmation of gender dysphoria for minors is best for their long term health without research. Good medicine is based on objective biology and is cautious with a patient’s psychological state.