NC Republican Laughs at Warning That Bill Could Increase Suicide Risk in LGBTQ Youth

Sen. Sydney Batch, a Democrat, at right, tells a Senate Judiciary committee on Thursday that a ban on gender-affirming care for youth would increase suicide risk. (Screengrab courtesy of NC Newsline)

By Michael McElroy

June 23, 2023

A bill advancing through the North Carolina legislature would bar doctors from providing gender-affirming care for children. When a Democrat pointed out that studies say such laws are dangerous, Sen. Buck Newton chuckled and called the science ‘specious.’

[This post has been updated to add links to studies that Sen. Sydney Batch cited during an NC Senate hearing this week]

At a Senate judiciary committee hearing on Thursday, State Sen. Sydney Batch told her colleagues if the legislature passes a bill preventing North Carolina youth from accessing gender-affirming care, “children will die.”

Batch cited as evidence the “tons of data” from several major studies published in medical journals by doctors who provide this care.

As Batch spoke about the consensus from these studies, Sen. Buck Newton, a Republican and co-chair of the committee, began to laugh.

[Watch video of the exchange here.]

The bill at issue, House Bill 808, prohibits doctors from prescribing puberty-blocking drugs and certain hormones to minors.

Several Republican legislatures across the U.S. have already passed such laws, but the reasoning behind them is based on “information that is completely wrong,” Dr. Michelle Forcier, a pediatrician and professor at Brown University, told Scientific American in 2022. 

“A decade of research shows such treatment reduces depression, suicidality and other devastating consequences of trans preteens and teens,” Scientific American wrote.

Transgender and nonbinary youth have disproportionately high rates of depression and suicidal thoughts—which Batch pointed out—but having access to gender-affirming care can lower the suicide risk by as much as 73%, these studies show.

“We say we care about children. We say that we want to stop the ongoing issues with regards to mental health in our children. We are putting a billion dollars in this state into mental health treatment and yet we are going to need every single dollar or more in order to protect the children this bill will harm,” Batch, who represents Wake County, said.

After her comments, Sen. Lisa Grafstein, a Democrat, criticized Newton for his laughter.

“Well, I’m sorry for laughing about specious studies that are easily argued against,” Newton said. “That’s Sen. Batch’s opinion and I have mine and I can express mine, too.”

Batch asked to speak again.

“The studies that I’m actually talking about are from national journals and medical journals and from psychologists which I am more than happy to provide for you and anyone else who wants to see them. They are not specious,” she said.

“Thank you for your opinion,” Newton said. “We appreciate that.”

Newton did not responded to emails seeking comment, but the evidence clearly backs up Batch’s claims.

Even if the specific percentages vary, studies on the link between proper care and mental health have a consistent thesis: When trans youth have access to medically sound gender-affirming care, they have a lower risk for depression and suicidal thoughts.  

A study from the University of Wisconsin shows the risk fell by 70%.

Here is an incomplete list of other studies that back Batch’s claim. None of them are specious. 

Psychology Today did a round-up of lots of other studies that say the same thing.

Update: After publication, Batch’s office responded to an email asking for the list of studies she cited in her committee comments. Michael Hardison, Batch’s legislative assistant, did not respond to follow-up questions about whether the committee took her up on her offer to share them. Here is a list of the studies and links Batch’s office provided:

  • The attempted suicide rate is cut in half if transgender and nonbinary youth have access to gender-affirming supports.  (Green et al. Association of Gender-Affirming Hormone Therapy With Depression, Thoughts of Suicide, and Attempted Suicide Among Transgender and Nonbinary Youth. 2022 Apr;70(4):643-649 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34920935/)
  • Transgender teens treated with puberty blockers or hormone medication have lower rates of suicidality than peers who are not treated.  (Rew et al.Review: Puberty blockers for transgender and gender diverse youth – a critical review of the literature. Child and Adolescent Mental Health 2021 Feb;26(1):3-14)
  • Youths who had initiated Puberty Blockers or Gender Affirming Hormones had 60% lower odds of moderate to severe depression and 73% lower odds of self-harm or suicidal thoughts compared with youths who had not yet initiated either treatment. (Mental Health Outcomes in Transgender and Nonbinary Youths Receiving Gender-Affirming Care, JAMA. 2022;5(2) https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2789423 ) 
  • Use of Gender Affirming Hormone Therapy was associated with 73% lower odds of recent depression and 74% lower odds of seriously considering suicide compared to those who wanted Gender Affirming Hormone Therapy but did not receive it. For youth under age 18, Gender Affirming Hormone Therapy was associated with a 61% lower odds of recent depression and 62% lower odds of a past-year suicide attempt.  (Journal of Adolescent Health 2022: Association of Gender-Affirming Hormone Therapy With Depression, Thoughts of Suicide, and Attempted Suicide Among Transgender and Nonbinary)
  • Adolescents who received treatment with pubertal suppression were 70% less like to have lifetime suicidal ideation when compared with those who wanted pubertal suppression but did not receive it, (Turban et al. Pubertal Suppression for Transgender Youth and Risk of Suicidal Ideation Pediatrics (2020) 145 (2): e20191725.)
  • Long term outcome of pubertal suppression and subsequent hormonal and surgical treatment indicate that young people with gender dysphoria may benefit substantially with regard to psychosocial outcomes. Brain development studied by neuroimaging methods seems not to be disturbed by puberty suppression. Fuss et al. Gender dysphoria in children and adolescents: a review of recent research. (Fuss et al Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2015 Nov;28(6):430-4.  doi: 10.1097/YCO.0000000000000203.)
  • Gender-incongruent adolescents who are made to proceed with puberty according to their biologic sex had increased mental distress—including self-harm, suicidal thoughts and depression. (Sorbora et al. Mental Health and Timing of Gender-Affirming Care. Pediatrics Oct 2020 146 (4): e20193600)

Author

  • Michael McElroy

    Michael McElroy is Cardinal & Pine's political correspondent. He is an adjunct instructor at UNC-Chapel Hill's Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and a former editor at The New York Times.

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