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Transgender teens at not safe to be me protest
Transgender teens at not safe to be me protest

Puberty blockers have been used safely for decades - why is NHS England citing a lack of evidence?

Jamie Wareham
Jamie Wareham
TL;DR: The drugs, used safely for decades in children suffering with early puberty based on extensive studies and research, can no longer be prescribed to children under the age of 18 in an NHS England review that argues "there isn't enough evidence." The drugs have been the focus of bans across the US and now the UK - but only for trans kids, while they continue to be prescribed to cisgender kids.

Children will no longer be prescribed puberty blockers at gender identity clinics, NHS England confirmed this week, following a public consultation and an interim policy based on the 'Cass Review' - Sky News

Puberty blockers, which pause the physical changes of puberty such as breast development or facial hair - effects that have been shown to be reversible - will now only be available to transgender children as part of clinical research trials - The Guardian

Fewer than 100 young people in England are currently prescribed puberty blockers by the NHS. They will all able to continue their treatment, but new prescriptions will only be able to take place through an as yet unannounced clinical trial - BBC

What do we know about Puberty Blockers?

Puberty-suppressing hormones are part of a treatment option for people who have precocious (early) puberty, which, if left untreated, can cause health issues into adulthood.

"Puberty blockers have been used for decades in cisgender kids who either are going through puberty too early, or, in some instances, kids who are going through puberty very quickly,” Jason Klein, a paediatric endocrinologist and Assistant Director of the Transgender Youth Health Program at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone, told VICE.

“Their use has been FDA-approved, well-studied, well-documented, and well-tolerated for a long time now. And it’s the exact same medication that we use in trans or nonbinary children to basically put a pause on pubertal development. Exactly the same medications, at exactly the same doses.”

They are used as part of a mix of gender-affirming care, which in numerous studies has been shown to - for want of a better phrase - ‘save lives’ by drastically improving mental health and decreasing suicidal ideation - Columbia University

Why has the NHS stopped prescribing them for transgender teens?

The news comes weeks before a full independent review into gender identity services in England is due to be published. This was initially welcomed by the LGBTQIA+ sector, who agreed that reform was needed.

But that changed following a previously published interim report in 2022 by Dr Hilary Cass had earlier found there were "gaps in evidence" around the drugs and called for a transformation in the model of care for children with gender-related distress.

This week's announcement has been met with further huge disappointment by leading voices on the matter, such as Stonewall and Mermaids. 

The LGBTQIA+ sector have expressed concern that this decision has been made before further research, rather than after. The concern is that the decision will create further misunderstanding about the drugs, which are not new and are already prescribed for precocious puberty.

Analysis: The NHS puberty blocker decision isn't really about safety

It's clear that the issue around these drugs came about as part of a moral panic about transgender children.

It's even more telling that the decision won't affect prescribing the drugs to cis children with precocious puberty.

If this really was about safety or a lack of evidence, why hasn't the NHS stopped prescribing them to all children?

You couldn’t make it up.

This week we welcomed a tonne of new subscribers from our launchpad project, Trans+ History Week – and JK Rowling picks now as the moment to bring the world's attention to the history behind the initiative.

She questioned the undeniable history of transgender people's persecution by the Nazis, who burned books at the world's first gender and sexuality institute.

This is the inaugural year of Trans+ History Week. The Trans+ led initiative will begin on May 06 2024 - the 91st anniversary of the Nazi raid on the world’s first trans clinic. It's the week they tried to erase us. It's the week we will remember.

Marty Davies, founder of the initiative, learned about the history they were denied in school, in part because of Section 28, and wrote an article about it for us. It quickly became a tool for people to use to shut down the idea that being trans is a 'modern' invention. This week, the whole world joined us to set out to record, capture and further amplify that history, reminding us:

History is a tool for our liberation. 

What really struck me about the latest Rowling story was how clear it made the power imbalance her narrative creates.

Only last month she donated £70K to the gender-critical group 'For Women Scotland', to assist them in a legal challenge in the UK’s highest court over the definition of the word “woman” - The Times

Imagine what good QueerAF could do with 70K? We could:

  • Hire a full-time politics and fact-checking correspondent to put our community's stories front and centre in the upcoming general election
  • Get a full-time social media and outreach creative to build an even bigger platform for our community of LGBTQIA+ creatives to launch and build their careers on
  • Dedicate even more time to our work beyond this weekly newsletter: lobbying, meeting and working with media organisations to shift their approach to LGBTQIA+ representation

I get that you might not be able to pop over 70K like it's walking around money. But we're not afraid to lead on challenging this kind of misinformation - so if you can, consider funding our unique approach to journalism from as little as £4 a month: