The Psychological and Health Consequences of Policies Denying the Existence of Transgender and Intersex Adolescents

This statement was prepared with the support and input of the Diversity and Equity Committee.

The Society for Research on Adolescence is dedicated to advancing understanding of adolescence and to enhancing the well-being of youth in a globalized world, including adolescents with diverse gender identities and expressions. As an organization, we voice concerns that the research on this vulnerable population of young people contradicts recently proposed changes to the U.S. Health and Human Services definition of sex and gender.

Proposed changes to the definitions of sex and gender under Title VII and Title IX—definitions that courts have used to provide protections for transgender and intersex adolescents in schools and in the employment sector—would redefine “sex” in civil rights law as determined at birth and unchangeable. Yet, decades of scientific research from multiple disciplines demonstrates that a person’s gender is not determined by sex assigned at birth. This research also shows that sex is not binary (i.e., only male and female); indeed, intersex people—those whose reproductive or sexual anatomy does not meet the characteristics of stereotypical male and female bodies—represent nearly 1 in 1,500 to 1 in 2,000 births.

Numerous studies have documented that adolescents whose gender identity is affirmed, including being referred to by the correct name and pronouns, report better psychological and physical health. Conversely, research also documents that experiences of invalidation and rejection undermine psychological and physical health. These two lines of research suggest that a lack of legal recognition of transgender and intersex youth, which could block their access to resources and facilities consistent with their identity, can undermine their current and future adjustment and functioning.

The proposed exclusion of transgender and intersex adolescents from federal protections, therefore, is at odds with evidence related to adolescents’ well-being in addition to being a basic human rights issue. We encourage policy leaders and researchers to be aware of the potential damaging effects of the proposed changes to the federal interpretations and applications of the definitions of gender and sex for adolescents and their families.

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