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Pediatricians Who Treat Suicidal Teens Fact-Check Nikki Haley’s Anti-Trans Rhetoric

CNN’s town halls, a longstanding tradition during the lead-up to primary season, lately have become notorious platforms for dangerous misinformation. The latest offender is Nikki Haley, former South Carolina governor and Republican presidential candidate. In response to being asked what the word “woke” means to her, she went off on a transphobic tangent, falsely suggesting that having to interact with trans people is somehow driving cisgender teen girls to contemplate suicide.

“The idea that we have biological boys playing in girls’ sports—it is the women’s issue of our time,” Haley said during the June 5 town hall, bizarrely putting inclusive extracurricular activities ahead of things like being forced to have sex or being forced to give birth, actual hardships that many teen girls endure. “How are we supposed to get our girls used to the fact that biological boys are in their locker room? And then they wonder why a third of our teenage girls seriously contemplated suicide last year.”

Um, no. That is not even close to the reason.

Several pediatricians who actually treat suicidal teens—none of whom have patients citing “trans kids in sports” as a reason they’re struggling—were quick to explain how grossly and dangerously wrong Haley is. One of these was Michael O’Brien, a South Carolina pediatrician who slammed Haley for spreading anti-LGBTQ rhetoric that is actively harming those kids.

Deborah Greenhouse described a similar experience treating teens in her South Carolina pediatric practice for depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation—none of which were caused by playing alongside trans athletes.

Although Haley had her facts wrong, she was referencing a real CDC study released in February that found that 30 percent of teen girls have seriously considered suicide. Far from linking that sad finding to the existence of trans people, the study pointed to a startling increase in sexual violence, experienced by one in five teen girls. That same study found that LGBTQ students were even more likely to be victims of violence and to experience worse mental health outcomes than their peers as a result.

A survey by the Trevor Project had similarly grim results, finding that half of transgender and nonbinary young people had seriously considered suicide in the past year, compared to three in 10 teen cisgender kids. Kids whose families respected their pronouns or who attended gender-affirming schools reported lower rates of feeling suicidal, while about a third of LGBTQ youth said that anti-trans policies and laws negatively impacted their mental health.

South Carolina pediatrician Annie Andrews took to twitter to comment on the grossness of misusing a genuine mental health crisis among teens to pander to transphobic bigots.

Brynn Tannehill, a writer and transgender advocate, went further into the statistics in a twitter thread. Tannehill pointed out that Idaho, a red state that was the first to ban trans athletes from playing school sports, among myriad other anti-trans policies, leads the country in teen suicides. The lowest teen suicide rates are in blue and purple states: California, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, and Maryland, all states that have laws protecting trans people from discrimination.

“So it’s not the existence of trans kids in school unless you want to make the absolutely ludicrous claim that girls in Idaho are suicidal because there’s trans kids (whom they have never met, and will never meet) who are out and happy in Washington, Oregon, and California,” Tannehill wrote.

In addition to grossly misrepresenting the link between trans kids and suicide, Haley briefly pretended to care about the mental health of LGBTQ teens, talking about the need for access to therapy while misgendering trans girls as “biological boys,” with zero self-awareness that she is the problem. She complained that other kids are learning about gender identity and how to be respectful and inclusive—as if learning how not to be a bigot or a bully are hardships.

“Let’s get them [LGBTQ kids] the help, the therapy, whatever they need so that they can feel better and not be suicidal, but don’t go and cause all these other kids to feel like that pressure is on them. They don’t deserve that,” she said.

It’s probably safe to say that Haley, someone who also advocated for more guns in schools, is not an expert on what kids deserve or need.

(featured image: screengrab, CNN)

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Erika Wittekind (she/her) is a contributing writer covering politics and news and has two decades of experience in local news reporting, freelance writing, and nonfiction editing. Hobbies and special interests include hiking, dancing in the kitchen, trying to raise empathetic teen boys, and keeping plants alive. Find her on Mastodon at