I came out as transgender in 2015, at just 11 years old. Then, there was minimal discussion of transgender individuals — especially transgender youth — in the media as compared to today.
When I came out to my friends and family, I was the first transgender child many of them had ever met. Finding those who initially accepted my identity was a challenge, and beginning my transition was even harder. My parents couldn’t find a therapist in our area who specialized in gender dysphoria or LGBTQ identities, so I saw a therapist with no LGBTQ experience.
When we decided medical treatment was my next step, it took over a year to find a medical provider for Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and subsequently begin treatment. My point in all of this: I struggled to find adequate resources for support and treatment early in my transition.
But once I did find these resources, gender-affirming treatment was lifesaving for me.
Without it, I wouldn’t be here today.
Florida universities, such as UF, already provide gender-affirming care to their student populations. These universities also conduct research on transgender health care, which has allowed gender-affirming care to become more accessible.
This greater accessibility has broken down many of the barriers I experienced during the start of my transition. It’s important for universities to have a continued interest in providing and studying gender-affirming care for the transgender populations as a whole.
Universities and their associated health care organizations are saving lives. And when access to gender-affirming care is restricted, the health and lives of transgender people are put at risk.
A few days ago, Gov. Ron DeSantis requested data on individuals receiving gender-affirming care at Florida’s state universities. Hearing of this wasn’t shocking in the slightest to me — but it is extremely concerning.
DeSantis has also appointed predominantly conservative trustees to the board of New College of Florida. The culmination of these actions has made it abundantly clear DeSantis is attempting to gain control over the lives and narratives of minority groups in Florida, and educational institutions are his battleground.
In DeSantis’ memo, he requests information on how many individuals sought or received gender-affirming treatment at universities. The memo further requests this data be broken down into different treatment types, different ages, whether patients had any behavioral health services and names of other facilities patients visited before or after starting treatment with the universities.
The memo doesn’t request identifying information about the individuals. Regardless, collecting sensitive medical data about a vulnerable group that has been at the center of negative conservative political discourse is undeniably disturbing.
What is especially alarming about the request is the lack of direction for the data’s usage.
The implementation of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill proved that DeSantis’ administration isn’t afraid to take advantage of gray areas in legislation.
It’s also apparent state resources are used by his administration as political capital to further his ideologies — as was seen when DeSantis threatened Disney’s tax district after the company publicly disagreed with the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
It seems a similar situation is at hand here, and I foresee the data compiled will be used to further DeSantis’ mission to restrict gender-affirming care within the state. Similar to the situation with Disney, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if the threat of taking away state funding was used to punish universities that don’t abide by his requests.
In a better world, this data would be collected just for the purpose of developing unbiased statistical models that could be used to improve transgender health care.
But it’s ignorant to believe this data is being collected for unbiased use. DeSantis’ history with the transgender population has repeatedly proven his only goal is to silence our communities into fitting his transphobic beliefs and biased narratives.
Universities and their associated health care organizations that provide gender-affirming treatment and care are saving lives.
When access to gender-affirming care is restricted, the lives and mental health of transgender people — including mine — are at stake.
Tyler Audino is a 19-year-old UF data science freshman.