VOICES: Use media to highlight transgender role models

Take a quick scroll through any national, state or local media outlet with the search term “transgender” and you will be faced with a wall of negativity — transgender people being used as a “wedge issue” in politics, recent deaths of transgender individuals due to brutal homicides, and, sadly, transgender young people dying by suicide.

Now imagine for just a moment that you are a young transgender person, and instead of doing this quick internet search, you are active on social media. Your classmate reposts a video of hateful rhetoric from a local lawmaker, your family member posts a meme mocking the existence of a famous trans person, and your school blocks a post about a local LGBTQ support group because it talks about gender identity. This is the reality facing trans teens in Ohio.

Bills such as HB 454 — which would prohibit doctors from providing any type of gender-affirming medical care to transgender or nonbinary minors, regardless of parental support — ignore real problems faced by LGBTQ young people across Ohio, including barriers to mental and physical health care, homelessness and discrimination. And this proposed ban on gender-affirming medical care is just one of several examples of extreme government overreach happening across this state, as we also see policies being pushed this year that would ban transgender students from participating in sports, ban teachers from talking about LGBTQ issues or history in the classroom, and even ban rainbows from school grounds.

When you are constantly exposed to negative news stories and images about your community, and forced to watch your neighbors, coworkers, elected officials and even family members debate your rights and very existence, it’s hard not to internalize that negativity and hate. And we know that those feelings of stigma and rejection can compound and be very damaging to a young person’s mental health and sense of self.

And it’s not just the policies themselves that are having a negative impact, it’s also the media attention and ugly debates around them. A recent poll by The Trevor Project found that 85% of transgender and nonbinary youth say recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health. LGBTQ young people are already more than four times as likely to attempt suicide compared to their straight, cisgender peers — and more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. These relentless political attacks are only making matters worse.

These politicians spewing hate in the news are not aligned with the true values of Ohioans. As a transgender person born and raised in Ohio, I have experienced so much better. I’ve experienced love from my parents, acceptance from my former educators, politicians willing to listen to the real problems and seek solutions, and communities that will not stand for blatant bigotry toward our children. We can do better.

We can promote positive stories of transgender people and those who support them. Let’s use media to highlight transgender role models like Dion Manley, the first openly transgender man elected to public office in Ohio, or Amy Schnieder, the recent 40-game winner of Jeopardy. It’s time to shift the narrative of transgender people in media representation. We can show transgender young people we support them by speaking out against these political attacks. We can demand that transgender young people and their health care stop being used as bargaining chips.

We can propose and promote policies that support the health and well-being of all kids. Let’s create a dialogue that will inspire and uplift transgender young people, not tear them down.

Keygan Miller (they/them) is the public training manager for The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and mental health organization for LGBTQ young people.

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