Senator Hawley and the Republican Party claim they want to protect children from the dangers of social media. In reality, they want to strip Transgender people, especially youth, of their right to privacy and comfort.
Senator Josh Hawley (R-Minn.) introduced two new bills on Feb. 14 that focus on social media use in minors. The first was the Making Age-Verification Technology Uniform, Robust and Effective (MATURE) Act to illegalize social media use for anyone under the age of 16. In order to enforce this law, social media companies would be forced to utilize strict age verification, requiring users to register for social media using their full legal name and date of birth and prove their birth date with an image upload of government-issued identification. These preventative measures represent a gross misuse of legislative authority, seizing the decision-making power on how to raise children away from parents and placing it in the hands of the government. Hypocritically, Republicans want to give the government more power when it fits their agenda.
The second piece of legislation, the Federal Social Media Research Act, designates that the Comptroller General of the United States, in partnership with any other federal agencies of choosing, must study the impact of social media on the mental and physical health of users under age 18. The legislation lists the following mental health conditions as subjects of study: suicidality, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and gender dysphoria.
“At best, Big Tech companies are neglecting our children’s health and monetizing their personal information … It’s time to give parents the weapons they need to strike back,” Senator Hawley wrote in a Feb. 14 press release.
Hawley is not entirely wrong about the impact of social media on mental health. However, it is notable and unsurprising that Hawley lists “gender dysphoria” as a mental disorder among depression and suicidality. I doubt that Hawley is concerned about the well-being of Transgender youth who may suffer from gender dysphoria, considering his past anti-LGBT and anti-Transgender comments. Hawley’s MATURE Act is not a genuine attempt to ensure the safety and well-being of children from addictive and dangerous algorithms; rather, this legislation is a manifestation of the Republican Party’s attack on Transgender rights.
Hawley’s legislation about social media and gender dysphoria is nothing new. Though Republicans have been whittling away at other transgender rights for years, a more-recent form of their anti-Transgender narrative centers around social media. Right-wingers claim that naive children are turned Transgender through the scheming wiles of online leftists who are convincing children everywhere to go on hormones. Conservative news outlets, such as The Daily Wire and Fox News, further enforce the fear-mongering by publishing thousands of articles on transgender issues, with the vast majority being vitriolic and hateful, decrying child “mutilation” and the liberals that encourage it.
While conservatives blame social media for allegedly turning kids Transgender, they give a platform to detransitioners who align with their narrative. Detransition is the process of stopping hormone replacement therapy, using a different set of pronouns (usually aligned with birth gender) and other processes that reverse the effects of a social or medical transition. Not only are the online leftists wielding social media to bewitch innocent children, conservatives claim those children will inevitably certainly regret their transition and revile their permanently altered bodies.
Harkening back to Hawley’s legislation, it becomes clear that banning social media isn’t just for the well-being of children but is rather an extension of the already present right-wing anti-Transgender agenda. Though Hawley mentions suicidality, depression and other mental health conditions in his legislation, he and other conservatives are nonetheless focused on the alleged Transgender threats lurking in every corner of social media, scheming to emasculate your sons and androgenize your daughters.
In addition to targeting Transgender youth, the right appeals to conservative parents. As Hawley said, he doesn’t just want to protect children; rather, he wants to give parents the power to “strike back.”
“If you don’t believe that, they’re going to prosecute you, put you in jail and you’re not going to see your kids because they’re not going to let you see them” Fight for Schools Executive Director Ian Prior said on Fox News on Oct. 15, 2022.
The use of dramatic, catastrophizing language services his goal of making conservative parents even more fearful and suspicious of the so-called “Trans agenda.”
“Nothing is scarier than what’s happening in the schools,” Fox News Host Jesse Watters said during an Oct. 14, 2022 segment. “They want to separate kids from their parents.”
Considering Hawley’s attack on social media in the context of the right’s preexisting talking points about Transgender youth and powerless parents, a complete narrative emerges: young children on social media are allured to the Transgender lifestyle, schools conceal children’s transitions from their parents and any parents who protest will face severe consequences from leftists. According to the right, inevitably those children will regret their choices and detransition — but the damage will have already been done.
The right positions themselves as the rational actors fighting against the powerful leftist in government and Big Tech in order to safeguard our children who don’t know any better. In reality, the right manufactures their talking points with no real-world basis.
For example, there are no teenagers with broken bodies mass-detransitioning. While more people, especially teenagers, are coming out as Transgender, detransition rates have remained incredibly low. In 2022, only ~3% of transgender individuals experienced some form of transition regret, but not all chose to detransition. The most common factor for detransitioning is “social pressure,” according to a 2021 study. Only 5% of all detransitioners — 0.4% of the entire transgender population — detransitioned because they were unhappy with the physical changes and chose to become cisgender again.
Moreover, Transphobic, conservative parents are not punished; rather, it is parents who allow their children to live authentically and freely who face social scorn and legal repercussions. In Texas, puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapy are now legally considered child abuse, and parents who allow their children to utilize those medical resources are under legal investigation.
The right’s entire narrative about Transgender youth is a farce. Republicans conjure a startling image, utilizing cherry-picked cases that fit their narrative and flavoring them with emotional, dramatic language. They pin the blame on social media, Big Tech, leftists or other vague, ominous forces and covertly push anti-Transgender legislation at the state and federal level, such as with Hawley’s MATURE act.
This anti-Transgender legislation is no exception in Georgia. SB-140 bans performing all sexual reassignment surgery and hormone replacement therapy for minors, citing a “massive unexplained rise in the diagnoses of gender dysphoria among children.” Similarly, SB-141 seeks to end healthcare providers’ ability to prescribe hormone replacement therapy and perform gender affirming surgeries. SB-88 “Parents and Children Protection Act of 2023” bans schools, social services, and other facilities from providing children with information of a “sensitive nature” including information about gender identity and or sexual orientation. None of these bills have been passed yet, but they are nonetheless advancing through the Georgia legislature.
Divesting transgender youth of autonomy is what the right calls “protection.” Forcing schools to out Transgender children is what the right calls “giving parents the power to strike back.” Do not let the right deceive you. Leftists are not conspiring to seduce your cisgender children into the LGBT lifestyle and Transgender children are not confused or misguided. Facing misrepresentation in conservative media, legal discrimination and social oppression, Transgender people, especially Transgender youth, need support now more than ever.
Alexandra Kauffman (26C) is from Phoenix, Arizona.
Alexandra Kauffman (26C) is an English & Creative Writing major from Phoenix, Arizona. At the Wheel, she is an Emory Life section editor and Arts & Entertainment campus desk. Outside of the wheel, she is a member of Alloy Literary Magazine. She is also a science fiction enthusiast and enjoyer of the bizarre.