Saturday, February 24, 2024

We are a doctor, two psychologists, several Cambridge Public Schools staff, a worker at a nonprofit organization serving Cambridge youth and a city councillor who is also social worker. Some of us are parents, including of a parent of a gender-expansive teen. We are the members of the Cambridge Healthy Children Task Force.

The children and young people in our lives – professionally or personally – include transgender, nonbinary and gender-expansive individuals who have been bullied or harassed and have engaged in self-harm. Transgender, nonbinary and gender-expansive youth are at a higher risk for suicide, being victims of violence and losing their home. (We will refer to them in the rest of this letter as “transgender.”)

In August, a team of clinical care staff at Boston Children’s Hospital faced threats and harassment via email, phone calls and online platforms. The doctors and other care providers were targeted because their program serves, and affirms the gender of, transgender children.

Alabama, Arkansas, Texas and Arizona have legislation that would criminally charge not only providers of what is called gender-affirming care for minors, but their parents and legal guardians. Fifteen states are considering 25 similar pieces of legislation this yar.

It is a myth – a dangerous myth – that transgender identity is false and a source of harm. The opposite is true. Discrimination, bullying and lack of support causes harm to kids and young people in the transgender community.

In Cambridge, despite our city’s history at the forefront of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer rights and protections, there are many children and young people who are part of this community and are hurting and in danger. We as a community need to step up to listen to them and prevent harm, whether the danger is to their physical or mental well-being, their ability to thrive as learners or their future as adults. Very recent data on 1,200 high schoolers in Cambridge shows that:

  • 56 percent of gender-nonconforming students were mostly likely to experience depression.
  • 33 percent of students identifying as gender-nonconforming were among those most likely to engage in self-harm.
  • 43 percent of students identifying as gender-nonconforming were among those most likely to report considering suicide.
  • 48 percent of students who identify as gender nonconforming reported bad or unfair treatment in school because of their sex or gender identity.
  • 18 percent of students identifying as gender-nonconforming are most likely to experience bullying by “electronic means.”

Stress and trauma at these levels call for everyone in the community to educate themselves on the factors contributing to the problem, and to ask ourselves what can we do. More importantly, it’s a call to hear from these youth and the transgender community on what would help.

Schools and places for kids and youth outside of school must be safe for all children. Race, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, economic circumstance, immigration status – no child or youth with any particular identity deserves less from their community.

We invite you to learn how you can be a better ally to support transgender, nonbinary and gender-expansive young people in your community.

Please join us, the Healthy Children Task Force, along with co-sponsors The Cambridge Public Library, SpeakOUT Boston, the Cambridge LGBTQ Commission and Project 10 East at 6 p.m. Wednesday to learn more about the experience of transgender people in our community, with a focus on youth. The event is in-person at the Cambridge Public Library and available virtually on Zoom. Registration is here.

Avra Goldman and Marc McGovern, co-chairs of the Cambridge Healthy Children Task Force; Chandra Banks, Bill Barnert, Julie Croston, Deirdre Logan, Matt Mena-Landry and Ariana Starling, members