As a pediatrician, I have dedicated my life to the well-being and protection of children.
A large part of my job is to care for and advocate for those who have no voice. My wife, also a pediatrician, underwent three years of extra training to specialize in caring for children who have been sexually or physical abused. Throughout our careers in pediatrics, we have seen far too many children who were not kept safe from such predators.
Because of our backgrounds, we feel uniquely qualified to comment on Senate Bill 6, the so-called Bathroom Bill currently being debated in the Texas Legislature.
Lt. Governor Dan Patrick said at an event sponsored by the Family Research Council — a group with a history of spreading false information about the gay community and which is recognized as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center — that SB 6 is “to provide common sense, common decency, privacy and public safety to women.”
Although well-meaning, this bill fails at providing any of these stated goals and unfortunately will make it more likely that transgender children will be physically or sexually assaulted.
The American Academy of Pediatrics states that “policies excluding transgender youth from facilities consistent with their gender identity have detrimental effects on their physical and mental health, safety and well-being.” This statement is based on the best and most current available data.
Women and children are not at risk from the trans community — and public restrooms in general are not risk areas of sexual assault for children. Nearly all children who are sexually abused are abused in the home by someone they know, not in the bathroom by a stranger. We cannot remember a single case where a trans person sexually or physically assaulted a child.
Transgender youth are much more likely to be victims of assault — not be the perpetrators — and this risk increases if they are forced to use the bathroom of their biological sex.
Half already feel unsafe in school because of verbal and physical harassment, and such harassment directly leads to teen suicide, the leading cause of death in this group of young people. When transgender youth are allowed to live as their identified gender in a safe, supportive environment, the rates of depression and suicide return to “normal” rates for this age group. Gender identity, like sexual orientation, cannot be changed. These youth cannot be “converted.” Truly, this is a life-and-death issue and I would hope that we can all agree that children should feel safe at school.
If he is truly interested in advocating and protecting children from sexual abuse, Patrick and the Texas Legislature would do well to rely on real data prior to enacting laws or stigmatizing a vulnerable population.
Creating a culture that ensures children will be believed if they speak out after an assault is a solid first step. Ensuring that such reports are taken seriously by police and that perpetrators are prosecuted is another. Empowering children with early, comprehensive sex education and knowledge of their bodies is also essential as children often lack the vocabulary to describe what happened to them. And of course, supporting mothers in their endeavors to work and secure child and health care while ensuring their own safety would in turn protect their children.
My wife and I have two daughters. It is understandable to feel uncomfortable with a new situation or population that has until recently been nearly silent. As a society we must examine our discomfort and assess the actual risk to us and to our children rather than give in to prejudice and fear.
The fact is that the trans community poses no threat to anyone and the current law being debated will not make our children any safer. Pediatricians have long understood that stigmatization, marginalization, bullying and silencing are the true threats to our children. Let’s do something to stop that.
Northrop is a board certified pediatrician in San Antonio.