Everyone should be able to receive the health care they need to live healthily and happily. Unfortunately, one type of health care— gender-affirming care for transgender people—has become a hot-button issue. As one of Maine’s estimated 7,100 transgender residents, I want to put the issue into a personal and national perspective.

It’s difficult to overstate how important gender-affirming care has been for me. I wouldn’t be here today without it. Before transitioning, I was miserable. I had been experiencing depression since childhood, and my dysphoria – my sense of discomfort and disconnect from my body – was steadily increasing with each passing year. Despite many attempts to suppress or deny it, I realized that I needed to transition. Luckily, I was able to do so with the help of gender-affirming health care. For the first time, things got better instead of worse and hope began to emerge. I was finally able to feel comfortable in my own skin. I still face struggles and challenges – my life didn’t magically become all sunshine and roses just because I got an estrogen prescription – but thanks to my transition, I have known joy that I never could have dreamed was possible.

This joy, this inner peace, is what state legislatures across the country are trying to deny transgender people. This is what states are trying to criminalize parents for providing to their children, and doctors for providing to their patients, despite these bans being opposed by an overwhelming majority of medical associations. Politicians and activists in these states are attempting to deny transgender people our right to exist freely and openly. They are attempting to investigate our parents under fabricated claims of child abuse and remove children from loving homes. They are calling us “demons” and “filth.” They are even, in some cases, outright calling for our elimination. These politicians are grotesquely capitalizing on their constituents’ fear of what they do not understand for their own political gain. In doing so, they are creating an atmosphere of terror for some of their states’ most vulnerable residents.

Elected officials in these states are also trying to extend this hostile environment beyond their borders. Within the past year, the Texas Attorney General has requested information on transgender patients from clinics in both Washington state and Georgia. Last year, 19 attorneys general signed a letter protesting a federal rule strengthening the privacy of people who receive abortions.

This political hostility bleeds into the social environment as well. Nationally, armed militias, including self-described Christian fascists, have been disrupting Pride celebrations and other community events. In June 2023 alone, there were 145 documented incidents of extremist hate, ranging from targeted harassment, to vandalism, to assaults and murder. Schools across the country, but especially in states targeting LGBTQ+ youth, have seen dramatic increases in anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes.

All of this makes me feel unshakably afraid, for my future in this country and for my friends in the states trying to criminalize care. But what can we do here in Maine, so far removed from these states?

From a policy perspective, Maine can shield its medical providers from out-of-state investigations related to gender-affirming care. But the answer has to be social, not just political. We don’t just need politicians. We need you.

We need you to understand that transgender people are nothing to be afraid of. We are not demons, we’re people: friends, coworkers, and neighbors. We aren’t some new fad, either. Gender nonconformity – including transgender and nonbinary people – has been a constant throughout human history and across the world. The only thing that changes is how people and communities respond to us, whether it be with fear and rejection or love and acceptance.

Our society is at its strongest when we embrace the wonderful diversity of human experience. Those seeking to divide us through fear, persecution and hate are doing so only for their short-sighted political gain. We should not give in to them.

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