Editor’s Note: Jack Turban MD MHS (@jack_turban) is a fellow in child and adolescent psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine, where he researches the determinants of mental health among transgender and gender diverse youth. Jules Gill-Peterson PhD (@gp_jls) is an associate research professor of history at Johns Hopkins University. She is the author of “Histories of the Transgender Child.” The views expressed here belong to the authors. View more opinion on CNN.
Not long ago, Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene – who opposes passing the Equality Act, which would guarantee federal civil rights protections for LGBTQ Americans – hung a sign outside her office. Her sign read, “trust the science.”
If only she – and like-minded others – would.
One of us is a physician-scientist and the other is a historian of medicine. We’ve both been watching as conservatives claim their legislative attacks on transgender people are rooted in science. Because we lack explicit federal civil rights protections for transgender people, a problem The Equality Act would remedy, Republicans have been able to launch a range of attacks on the civil rights of transgender people, each time using “science” as their justification. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, when signing a piece of anti-trans legislation into law earlier this month, claimed “We are going to go based off biology – not based on ideology.”
But here’s the thing – they’re not. In fact, attacks on trans people are also attacks on science itself.
First of all, transgender people are not “denying science” by virtue of existing. On the contrary, the medical and scientific consensus is that being trans and transitioning are healthy natural manifestations of human diversity – and transgender people have a lot of long-ignored expertise to offer the sciences.
Research confirms a strong biological basis for gender identity. Twin studies have shown that transgender identity, rooted in the brain, has a strong genetic basis, and sophisticated gene sequencing has found a range of putative genes involved in gender identity development – mostly those involved in how the body reacts to hormones such as estrogen.
Though some conservatives have a strange obsession with focusing on other elements of biology (i.e., genitals and chromosomes), it doesn’t make scientific or medical sense to give these unconscious parts of our bodies primacy over our conscious brains, where gender identity resides. As any trans person could tell you, we don’t need these biological data to justify our humanity, but they do empirically defang anti-trans ideology.
As for the legislation itself, none of it holds up in the face of actual research. Many will remember the “bathroom bill” saga that began in North Carolina in 2016, in which Republicans argued that we needed to ban transgender people from bathrooms that match their gender identity because otherwise there would be a rise in sexual assaults. However, research has shown that, in reality, trans-inclusive bathroom policies are associated with lower rates of sexual assault victimization against transgender people and no increase in sexual assault victimization among the general population.