About the Author
Jay Eveson-Egler, BA (they/them) is an Autistic self-advocate and parent. They’ve worked with neurodiversity-based organizations and individuals in a variety of age groups and stages of life. They have a depth of knowledge of LGBTQIA2S+ issues in the Autistic community. They have prior experience founding and facilitating neurodiverse peer support groups and remain active as an adviser with the Neurodiverse Students Association at Mount Holyoke.
Within the past few months, the LGBTQ+ community has seen a wave of legislative efforts aimed at stripping away their rights, particularly those of Transgender individuals. As of January 2023, over 460 bills have been introduced that seek to limit or prohibit various aspects of transgender people’s lives, including access to healthcare, public accommodations, and our basic human rights.
Research has shown that transgender and non-binary individuals are more likely to share Autistic traits or even to share a diagnosis. One specific study shows that as many as 1 in 4 transgender or non-binary individuals may also be Autistic. Many of these laws have begun to specifically target the Autistic trans community by requiring evaluations for autism before determining eligibility for gender affirming care, or outright banning care for Autistic individuals. For the Autistic community, these bills are especially alarming and we should be paying attention.
Targeting Autism in Anti-Transgender Legislation
In April of 2023, the Attorney General for Missouri issued an emergency ruling limiting access to certain procedures for transgender residents. This could impact adults depending on whether or not they are Autistic or have a mental health diagnosis, such as depression or anxiety. The ruling goes so far as to state that, “It is an unfair, deceptive, fraudulent, or otherwise unlawful practice for any person or health organization to provide a covered gender transition intervention to a patient (or refer a patient for such an intervention) if the person or health organization:… Fails to ensure that the patient has received a comprehensive screening to determine whether the patient has autism.”
A similar bill in Georgia, Georgia Senate Bill 140, likewise acknowledges the common overlap in Autistic traits and diagnoses within the Transgender community: “Gender dysphoria is often comorbid with other mental health and developmental conditions, including autism spectrum disorder.”
More recently, Ohio also passed a bill, House Bill 68, onto their senate that bans gender affirming care for minors and requires that Transgedner or questioning minors be assessed for Autism, ADHD, and several mental health diagnoses including depression and anxiety.The inclusion of autism in these bills is alarming many advocates because of the implications it brings with it that this may just be a stepping stone in potentially stripping Autistic Transgender people of their rights to gender affirming care, and Autistic and Disabled people more broadly of other basic rights to autonomy and agency.
Using Mental Health to Create Barriers
The emergency ruling in Missouri targets people with depression and anxiety, in addition to Autistic people, because all of these are common diagnoses for Transgender people. It is clear to see that this was intended to be an all over ban for access to gender affirming care. Many Transgender people struggle with depression and anxiety, often as a result of social pressures and stigmas against them. Many supporters of the laws such as the Missouri AG’s emergency ruling, as well as Georgia’s gender affirming care ban, often attempt to twist this narrative, citing the identity as the central cause of mental health disabilities in Transgender people. Many cite the overlap with autism in particular in order to argue that we, as Autistic Trans people, do not have the mental capacity to make decisions about our bodies, and identities as a result of our neurological differences.
Legislative Attacks Beyond Diagnoses
These bills are not the only bills targeting the Transgender community. Some of the most horrific laws targeting the Trans community and our ability to simply exist and contribute to our communities can be seen across many states, including Texas, Tennessee, and Florida. Many of these states have passed or are in the process of passing laws that limit Transgender and gender non-conforming individuals’ ability to access certain public accommodations, such as domestic violence shelters or even bathrooms. There are laws in these states that seek to redefine child sex abuse to include simply existing as a Transgender person or as a drag performer within the presence of a child. One of the most egregious laws that recently passed and signed in Florida, Senate Bill 254, makes it legal for the state to take temporary custody of any child present within the state, meaning that the child does not have to be a resident, if that child may be at risk of receiving or being exposed to gender affirming care. This can mean anything from having access to gender affirming care themselves, or having a parent or sibling who is receiving gender affirming care. This bill, among many others, prompted both the NAACP and Equity Florida to publish travel advisories for families wanting to travel or move to Florida, both citing that the state has become “openly hostile” to LGBTQ+ individuals.
The Consequences and the Need for Action
The implications of these bills for Transgender Autistic people are deeply troubling. Without access to gender-affirming care, these individuals may be forced to either end or completely forgo accessing evidence based, life saving, and essential medical treatment, leading to increased rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide. Moreover, many of these laws make it deeply unsafe for Autistic Transgender people to exist freely within their societies, adding increasing barriers to accessing their communities, which could likely lead to increased rates of isolation and loneliness, both of which are common issues within the Autistic community.
It is imperative that we take action to oppose these harmful bills and protect the rights of all individuals, including Transgender and Autistic people. We must continue to advocate for policies that promote equality, respect, and dignity for all. More than anything, we must address these issues at their roots by being vocal within our own communities. These laws are passed because they affect a minority of people, but the erosion of rights and freedoms always means the erosion of rights and freedoms for others. A movement that started with banning transgender athletes from sports has evolved into legislation that is now threatening the very rights Autistic people have to agency and self-determination, eroding not just the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, but the rights of Autistic and disabled people as well. It is essential that we oppose these bills and work to create a more inclusive and equitable society that values and protects the rights and well-being of everyone.
Taking action against anti-Trans legislation is essential in protecting the freedoms and rights of everyone. Consider reaching out to your state senator or congressional representative, getting involved with LGBTQ+ organizations, participating in local Pride and Protest events to demonstrate your support and solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community, and foster change within your immediate sphere by engaging in open dialogue and confronting instances of anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment.
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