© 2024 All Rights reserved WUSF
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Florida's treatment guidance for transgender youth could harm children, health professionals say

The Florida Capitol building on Saturday, February 15, 2020, in Tallahassee.
Chris Day
Fresh Take Florida
The Florida Capitol building on Saturday, February 15, 2020, in Tallahassee.

Studies show that trans affirming care can reduce suicide rates by 73% in transgender youth.

State guidance issued this week regarding treatment options for transgender youth could do serious harm to Florida's children, health care professionals say.

The Florida Department of Health's guidance says that people who are under 18 "should not be prescribed puberty blockers or hormone therapy" or have gender reassignment surgery. It also warned against social gender transition as a treatment for children and adolescents.

But therapists say that these treatments could save lives.

Studies show that when transgender youth get proper trans affirming care, depression rates drop by 60 percent and suicide rates drop by 73%.

“Trans affirming care saves lives, period," said Heather Eslien, a licensed mental health counselor in Sarasota who specializes in transgender care.

The state's guidelines are based on inaccurate information and would harm children that are already vulnerable, she said.

Florida’s guidance memo came amid similar actions in Texasand Alabama, which seek to limit access to such treatment as puberty-blocking medication and hormone therapy.

“We're seeing the slippery slope of these attacks taking hold all across the country,” Eslien said. “It's such a political attack. And when you talk about attacking young people, I mean trans youth in particular are already super vulnerable to suicide because of lack of family acceptance, because of lack of societal acceptance, and not being included in healthcare to the degree that they should be and then you want to put on top of that, you’re not allowed to get the care that we know, as professional providers is medically necessary."

"So this is just so frightening to me, as a provider, and to my colleagues who do this work."

Florida’s guidelines were issued after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last month issued guidance that said its Office for Civil Rights “will continue working to ensure that transgender and gender nonconforming youth are able to access health care free from the burden of discrimination.”

Along with the states’ new guidance, Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo also issued a statement blasting the federal directives that backed treatment for transgender youths.

"It was about injecting political ideology into the health of our children,” Ladapo said.

Abbie Aldridge, a licensed mental health counselor in Largo, said Florida’s new guidelines will not affect the way they practice.

“I will continue to affirm the gender and goals of any youth who seek my services, as well as supporting their family through the process," Aldridge said. "As most of my ongoing therapy clients are primarily adults, the guidelines don't directly impact their access to care. However, it does foster further feelings of being unsafe and unwelcome in Florida.”

In response to the state's guidelines, the Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement which read in part, “gender-affirming care can be lifesaving. Research shows that access to evidence-based gender affirming care among adolescents significantly improves their mental health. Appropriate gender-affirming care, conducted in close coordination with pediatricians and parents, is safe and effective for treating patients experiencing gender dysphoria.”

As a reporter, my goal is to tell a story that moves you in some way. To me, the best way to do that begins with listening. Talking to people about their lives and the issues they care about is my favorite part of the job.