For Mara Perez, high school became “a living nightmare” after she publicly came as transgender.
Perez said she was bullied by her peers and school administrators in Cobb County. Her parents finally pulled her out of school after she said she began receiving death threats.
A biological male, Perez is Black and Hispanic, which has placed her at the intersection of gender discrimination and racism.
“They see me − someone who is unapologetically Afro-Latina and queer − and they see a target,” said Perez, now a high school senior. “It does not matter that trans people are human beings just like everybody else.”
Advocates said Georgia’s new law limiting medical care for transgender minors would disproportionately impact people like Perez, –a transgender person of color. Studies show that transgender people of color have higher rates of suicide, are more likely to be victimized and tend to experience greater housing instability than others in the LGBTQ community.
Gov. Brian Kemp signed Senate Bill 140 into law in March, just days after it was approved by the state Legislature. It bans licensed medical professionals from providing minors with certain hormones or surgical treatments to align with their gender identity.
Supporters say it protects children from taking steps toward an irreversible gender transition.
State Sen. Ben Watson, a Savannah Republican, physician, and a sponsor of the bill said it prioritizes a child’s safety by pausing these surgeries until a child turns 18.
On Twitter, Kemp said, “As Georgians, parents, and elected leaders, it is our highest responsibility to safeguard the bright, promising futures of our kids – and SB 140 takes an important step in fulfilling that mission.”
The new transgender law in Georgia is one of at least 50 anti-trans bills adopted and passed by Republican-controlled state legislatures around the country, according to the 2023 Trans Legislation Tracker. In addition to banning medical treatment, state lawmakers in other states are also seeking to make doctors and parents liable for administering and approving them, as well as limiting public funds used to pay for treatment.
Opponents of the Georgia law, like state Sen. Kim Jackson, Georgia’s first openly gay member of the state Senate, believe it will lead to more transgender children of color harming themselves because they will not have access to proper medical care.
SB 140 includes an exception for treating intersex children and will also allow minors to continue receiving hormone treatments if they begin before July 1, 2023, when the law goes into effect.
State Sen. Sally Harrell, who talked to lawmakers about her transgender son, said that is not good enough.
“You cannot slap a time frame on a child’s transition process,” the Atlanta Democrat said. “Parents, not politicians, know what is best for their children.”
Tracee McDaniel, a Black trans female and CEO of Juxtaposed Center for Transformation, a non-profit which provides support and emergency housing to marginalized individuals, said there has been a growing obsession with trans and gender non-conforming people. The state government continues to perpetuate that trans rights are the greatest threat to democracy, instead of prioritizing the needs of trans people, she said.
“We are seeing in real-time how our government uses marginalized groups as scapegoats for moral panic to distract from the lack of policies that would improve trans lives,” McDaniel said.
In its 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health report, The Trevor Project, an American nonprofit organization focused on suicide prevention efforts among LGBTQ+ youth, reported that one in four (25%) Black transgender and nonbinary young people reported a suicide attempt in the past year. Black transgender and nonbinary young people experience higher rates of victimization, attempts from others to change their sexual orientation or gender identity, and housing instability.
Feroza Syed, a trans woman of color and board member of Atlanta’s Transgender Housing Coalition, an LGBTQ group focused on helping homeless Black transgender people, said, “SB 140 merely acts as a blanket bill and purposely ignores the needs of trans children who are also racial/ethnic minorities.”
LGBTQ people of color have higher rates of unemployment compared to non-LGBTQ people of color. In addition, unemployment rates for transgender people of color have reached as high as four times the national unemployment rate, a survey from The Movement Advancement Project (MAP) found. MAP is an independent, nonprofit think tank that provides research, insight, and communications.
The survey also found that African American and Native American young people are disproportionately represented among LGBT homeless youth and the broader homeless population.
“Children, teens, and adults are in desperate need of access to evidence-based support in health and education,” Jackson said.
At least 32 transgender and gender-nonconforming people were killed in the United States in 2022, the Human Rights Campaign announced in its 2022 annual report ahead of the Transgender Day of Remembrance.
Transgender people of color account for 81 percent of known victims that year and 59 percent were Black.
Additionally, Black transgender and nonbinary young people reported nearly double the rate of having been physically threatened or harmed due to their sexual orientation or gender identity (40%) compared to Black LGBQ young people who were cisgender (22%).
“This could have been a chance for policymakers to address these horrifying realities by enacting protections for marginalized trans kids,” said Chanel Haley, a gender policy manager for the Georgia Equality and the first African-American transgender person hired by the Georgia House of Representatives. “Instead, policymakers are more concerned with further pushing anti-trans rhetoric into law.”
Perez is now 18 and old enough to make her own decisions.
“I feel relieved that I am finally an adult, and I can have some autonomy over my own body,” she said. “But my heart breaks for other trans children of color because our government has basically green lit their death warrant.”