Culture war refugees

Saturday June 17, 2023

“Maryland Governor Declares Maryland A Trans Sanctuary State.” It’s an eye-popping headline few of us would have expected just a few short years ago. But in the wake of dozens of draconian state laws targeting transgender people, many individuals and their families are making the difficult choice to leave their home states.

And, earlier this month, Maryland became the 12th state enacting measures to provide a safe haven for those who must move to continue receiving recommended medical care. These states prevent courts or officials from complying with child removal requests, extraditions, arrests, or subpoenas related to gender-affirming health care. They also create safe spaces where physicians can practice gender-affirming care without fear of losing their licenses or being incarcerated.

As Dr. Angela Kade Goepferd, chief education officer and medical director of the Gender Health program at Children’s Hospital Minnesota has said, “Frequently, we talk about gender-affirming care as life-saving health care. And we’re not saying that to be dramatic.” Kids who can’t access care “are at significantly higher risk of suicidality,” Kade Goepferd said.

The same goes for transgender adults. The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey (USTS), which is the largest survey of transgender people in the U.S. to date, found that experiencing discrimination or mistreatment in education, employment, housing, health care, in places of public accommodations, or from law enforcement is associated with a higher prevalence of suicide thoughts and attempts.

Additionally, the anti-trans-healthcare measures being enacted are forcing some transgender individuals into involuntary “de-transitioning,” (returning to living according to their sex assigned at birth). The USTS found that transgender individuals who de-transitioned were significantly more likely to report suicide thoughts and attempts.

It’s understandable that transgender persons and their families who must now move to continue their access to life-saving medical care are being referred to in the media as refugees.  But the United Nations definition of a refugee includes having to cross an international border.  Transgender people who must move to a different state actually meet the U.N.’s definition of “internally displaced persons.” The U.N.’s Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement created in 1998 note that Internally Displaced Persons have the right to basic humanitarian assistance (such as food, medicine, and shelter), the right to be protected from physical violence, as well as help in recovering lost property and possessions.

The stories of those forced to leave their homes abruptly echo the experiences of refugees and internally displaced persons the world over.  As one transgender woman who left Florida to move to Minnesota put it, “I had to leave Florida to avoid having my care halted. I had people begging me to take them with me when I moved, but I could only accommodate myself and my partner. It was heartbreaking.”

Article written by Cynthia Pulham Wolfe.

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