Conservative lawmakers have found a new weapon in their fight against trans rights. Ironically, research aimed at understanding transness is the basis for several new restrictive laws. Here is what’s happening.
Something in Common
At least three U.S. states brought anti-trans bills for a vote in the spring of 2023.
All of them have at least one thing in common.
But when researchers started to note a link between autism and transgenderism a decade or more ago, none of them could have imagined their research would be weaponized.
They Want to Ban Hormones
That’s exactly what’s happening in Georgia, though, where Senate Bill 140 points to the autism connection.
It’s reason enough to ban hormone therapy for trans patients, say its supporters.
Mandatory Autism Screen
Meanwhile, in Missouri, the attorney general issued an emergency ruling that would require anyone seeking gender-affirming care to be screened for autism.
Minors Need Not Apply
And Arakansas lawmakers passed a law that denies trans-related hormone therapy to minors who have been diagnosed with autism.
Strong Connection to Autism
This all comes on the heels of research that shows transgender people are three to six times more likely to be autistic than cis people.
Ideology, Not Science
Psychiatrist Meng-Chuan Lai, who co-authored the 2020 study that revealed those findings, is surprised by how his research is being used.
The University of Toronto professor says the new laws are driven by politicians’ ideology, not science.
No Denying the Link
There is no denying the link between autism and transgenderism, says R. Larkin Taylor-Parker.
The legal director of the Autistic Self Advocacy says similar results have been seen in study after study.
Taking Away Their Power
But Tayler-Parker also says that politicians are misinterpreting the research to make the case that autistic people can’t make their own decisions.
Scientists Fighting Back
Academics aren’t taking the attack on their research lightly, though. And they’re fighting back.
Researchers on the Stand
Northwestern’s Aron Janssen and Michigan’s Daniel Shumer, for example, testified in a court case opposing the Missouri emergency decree.
Attorney General Backed Down
Their testimony hit home, as the judge in that case issued an injunction against the measure.
The Missouri attorney general then dropped his emergency rule completely.
If trans rights advocates were celebrating that victory, though, the party was short-lived.
The Ban Became Law
Just a few weeks later, Missouri legislators passed a new law banning the use of gender-affirming hormone therapy for minors, prisoners, and those on Medicaid.
Taking It to the Streets
Scientists have tried to fight back in other ways outside the courtroom, too.
Studies Are Ongoing
A large study published in July of 2023, for example, once again noted the connection between autism and being transgender.
Read at Your Own Risk
But the authors of that paper published additional notes along with the main text making it clear that research should not be used to restrict medical care to trans autistic people.
Science Should Be Free to Explore
Meanwhile, Lai has been outspoken about the need to separate pure research from political implications.
Scientists should be free to study nature and humans without fearing how their results might be used by those with agendas, he says.
An Academic Cage Match
So the battle rages on, pitting academics against lawmakers who want to misuse the research for political gain.
And all the while, both transgender people and people with autism are caught in the crosshairs.
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