On April 6, Arkansas became the first state in the country to ban best practice medical care for transgender youth in a move advocates have called “the single most extreme anti-trans law to ever pass through a state legislature.” That evening, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson -- a serial misinformer on the subject -- dedicated a 10-minute segment of his show to lying about such care, including the effects of puberty blockers.
In reality, such necessary care for trans youth is accepted as a safe, effective, and lifesaving treatment that is widely supported by medical professionals and yields long-term mental health benefits. The Washington Post’s Samantha Schmidt explained:
Medical guidelines do not recommend performing gender-affirming genital surgeries on transgender people before they turn 18. They also do not recommend any medical interventions before a child reaches puberty. But once transgender children reach the early stages of puberty, medical guidelines say they can consider puberty blockers, which are reversible treatments that pause puberty and give children time to decide what to do next. Later in their teenage years, transgender adolescents can consider hormone replacement therapies, such as estrogen for trans girls and testosterone for trans boys, which create more permanent changes to their bodies.
Despite the well-documented importance of providing best practice medical care for trans youth, Carlson repeatedly claimed that trans kids receiving such care experience poor mental health side effects, falsely stating that “the depression and the urge to self-harm and suicide is a component, is a side effect of taking these hormones.” He later lied that “there is not a single study that I'm aware of that shows an improvement in the mental health of children who take puberty blockers who are chemically castrated.” Carlson repeatedly and falsely referred to such treatments as “chemical castration,” a popular myth pushed by right-wing and anti-LGBTQ media. (Notably, Carlson admitted earlier this year that “most people, including me, have very little idea of what it means, medically” to transition.)
Carlson berated his guest, Arkansas’ Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, for vetoing the original bill (the state’s legislature then overturned his veto, passing the new anti-trans law on April 6). Hutchinson pushed back on some of Carlson’s false claims about health care for trans youth during the episode, yet he has signed other extreme anti-trans bills into law this year, including one banning trans athletes from competing and another allowing medical providers to refuse service to LGBTQ people.
Carlson is part of a greater right-wing media ecosystem that regularly disinforms about best practice medical care for trans youth
Last month, Carlson similarly used his Fox prime-time show to attack South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem for not supporting her state’s bill to ban trans kids from competing in sports, despite her commitment to prohibiting trans athletes via other measures.
In lashing out at GOP figures like Noem and Hutchinson for rejecting some anti-trans measures while supporting others, right-wing media figures including Carlson demonstrate an unwillingness to accept anything but the most extreme anti-trans policies from leaders on the right.
And Carlson’s anti-trans lies do not exist in a vacuum; right-wing media and anti-LGBTQ figures obsessively fearmonger and spread disinformation about best practice medical care for trans youth, and they have recently amplified this harmful rhetoric to attack the Equality Act.
Moreover, right-wing content about trans kids’ health care often earns high engagement on social media and skews the public's understanding of the issue. A Media Matters study of Facebook content about trans topics earning at least 100,000 interactions (likes, comments, and shares) during a one-year time period found that content about trans issues from right-leaning sources “earned nearly two times the engagement of all other sources combined.” Overall, 12% of such content was from right-leaning sources writing about medical care for trans youth, receiving a total of 8.31 million Facebook interactions.
Carlson’s misinformation and the right-wing media’s lies fuel extreme measures like Arkansas’ new law
Arkansas is just one of many states around the country advancing measures to ban and criminalize best practice care for transgender youth. In at least two states, doctors could face criminal penalties for providing lifesaving care for children (Missouri’s legislation further “includes parents who help or support their children in undergoing these medical treatments, requiring that they be reported to the state children's division”), and in at least one, care would be banned for trans people up to age 21. Similar efforts in the past were fueled by the misinformation spread by right-wing media and anti-LGBTQ groups.
Trans advocate and American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Chase Strangio has described such measures as “forcing young people already receiving treatment off of it and removing them from care that has allowed them to manage distress and embrace their own, individual processes of learning about and celebrating their bodies and identities.” Vox writer and trans journalist Katelyn Burns has explained the long-term impacts of these bills:
But this approach would force trans girls into male puberty and trans boys into female puberty without their consent, and brings along its own permanent changes, which could only partially be reversed through painful and expensive medical treatments in adulthood. Trans women forced through male puberty would then have to undergo painful and expensive electrolysis to remove facial hair and may be left with a body frame (shoulder and hip width) that would be unchangeable by any surgeries. Trans men would have to have surgery to remove their breasts and, like their trans female counterparts, be forced to live in an unwanted body frame for their entire lives.
As states consider the fate of trans youth whose physical and mental well-being are on the line, the public must not fall for lies and misinformation about best practice medical care from Tucker Carlson and other right-wing media.