Affirmation Matters: Supporting Trans and Gender-Expansive Youth in a Hostile Climate  



Affirmation Matters: Supporting Trans and Gender-Expansive Youth in a Hostile Climate  

Written by Phii Regis, Director of the All Children – All Families Program at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation (HRCF)

As of May 10, 2024, over 435 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been proposed to state legislatures across the United States, and 23 have been passed into law. A significant portion of these bills specifically target transgender and gender-expansive folks, especially youth, with the intent of banning access to gender-affirming care, implementing sports and bathroom bans, and even criminalizing the use of children’s chosen names and pronouns in classrooms. These attacks, among others, are leading to increasingly hostile environments, as is outlined in the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 2023 LGBTQ+ Youth Report, and the struggle for affirmation and respect for one’s identity is taking a substantial toll on the mental health and well-being of LGBTQ+ youth.  


As is noted in the HRC Foundation’s 2023 LGBTQ+ Youth Report, 41% of transgender and gender-expansive youth (including non-binary, gender non-conforming, and other non-cisgender gender-expansive folks) reported that their family never use their chosen name, and half reported that their family never use their correct pronouns. Almost 70% of LGBTQ+ youth surveyed in the report who never have their pronouns honored at home screened positive for anxiety, and almost 70% experience depression.  


However, when we look at youth who always have their correct pronouns used, the rates decrease significantly to just over 40% screening positive for depression, and slightly higher than 50% for anxiety. These findings reflect the powerful impact that honoring pronouns and other forms of gender-affirming care can have on improving mental health for LGBTQ+ young people. This decrease in negative mental health outcomes can happen as easily as having just one additional adult honor one’s pronouns or having just one additional space where someone can use their chosen name.  


Many trans and non-binary youth in foster care may not feel safe to disclose their gender identity to the adults or peer around them for fear or mistreatment, and far too often, trans and non-binary youth are further traumatized while in care due to the insensitive or explicitly transphobic behavior by the adults who are supposed to be protecting them—including foster parents and agency staff. In this current social and political climate, it is more important than ever to tend to the emotional well-being of this particularly vulnerable population of youth. It is essential that child welfare professionals and licensed foster care providers understand the importance of affirming the identities and experiences of transgender and gender-expansive youth who are in their care and seek out the training and resources to help deepen their understanding and ability to support trans youth.  


The National Center for Adoption Competent Mental Health Services is an important partner in this work. By improving access to adoption competent mental health, the National Center helps ensure that transgender and gender-expansive youth have access to services that are responsive to and respectful of their healthy identity formation in addition to the experiences they have had within the child welfare system. Adoption competent mental health services can support parents and caregivers in developing an understanding of their child’s history, reframe behaviors based on this understanding, and master the art of therapeutic parenting.  


How You Can Make a Difference 

To be misgendered, or to be called by a name that no longer aligns with your gender identity can be incredibly uncomfortable and hurtful. The consistent repetition of such acts is a form of overt harassment that can take a serious toll on one’s well-being. Fortunately, there are many ways you can begin creating a gender-affirming environment today! 


  1. Create opportunities for people to share their pronouns with you rather than assuming you know their pronouns based on name, gender expression, or appearance alone. For example, you can list your pronouns in your email signature, or introduce yourself by name and pronouns in one-on-one or group conversations.  
  2. Practice! It takes intention to consistently use someone’s correct pronouns if you previously used different pronouns for that person, or if you are using pronouns that are new to you. Take the time to practice using the correct name and pronouns for an individual in conversation and written communications.  
  3. If you make a mistake, apologize, and move along. You can help others by gently correcting them (call them in, rather than out) if they misgender someone as well.  
  4. Switch to using gender-inclusive terms when addressing groups of people. Instead of grabbing attention with the phrases “Ladies and Gentlemen” or “Hey guys,” try out words like “Folks,” “Y’all”, or “Friends”.  
  5. Remember to always honor the wishes of trans or gender-expansive folks when it comes to using the correct name and pronouns when interacting with other people – some folks may not be comfortable sharing their chosen name or correct pronouns with others due to a variety of reasons, including safety concerns. When advocating for trans and gender-expansive youth especially, make sure to keep their name and pronouns confidential unless explicitly given permission to share.  


In times like these, and always, we must be affirming and welcoming to trans and gender-expansive people and recognize the impact that affirmation of identity can have on the well-being of folks. To learn more about supporting trans, non-binary, and gender-expansive adults and youth, you can review any of HRC’s following resources: 



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