By the time Peyton Badalucco came out to his mother as transgender, he had been secretly binding his chest in a desperate attempt to hide his body. He was 14 years old and so miserable that he could barely muster the emotional strength to leave the house.
Coming out led to months of counselling, a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria and, finally, hormone therapy when he was 15. He lost several friends while transitioning, he said, but as his body changed, his depression and anxiety faded, and he stopped worrying about what people thought.
"Once I got over that," said Peyton, now an 18-year-old high school senior, "I just started feeling a lot more free to be who I truly am."
Hormone therapy made all the difference for Peyton, as it aligned his body with his gender identity. In a video he posted on a YouTube channel, shortly after his transition began, he told the camera that his life before transitioning had been like "forcing yourself to be someone that you're not".
But lawmakers in Idaho, and in more than two dozen other states across the country, have introduced measures this year that would chip away at transgender rights, including criminalising medical professionals who prescribe hormone treatments to minors.
In Idaho, two anti-transgender bills scheduled for state Senate votes this week would prohibit transgender people from changing their birth certificates to match their gender identities and would ban transgender athletes from playing on sports teams that do not correspond to their sex assigned at birth. A third bill that would have made it illegal to prescribe hormone therapy or perform gender affirming surgery stalled in a state House committee last month, effectively killing its chance of passage this year.
"It's degrading," Peyton said in a gravelly voice. "This is just going to make it harder for trans kids to be able to find their true happiness."
Republican lawmakers who support the measures said they are trying to protect children and also keep an accurate demographic count of state residents. Rep. Julianne Young, who introduced the birth certificate bill, cited the state's Vital Statistics Act as reason for the measure, saying it directs officials to "accurately document" a child's biological sex.
And Rep. Barbara Ehardt said her bill seeking to ban transgender athletes is intended to ensure fair competition for those who may be physically outmatched by their transgender peers.
But the legislative push has fuelled a divisive debate across the state — and country — over parental rights and government interference. The bills in Idaho resemble dozens of others under consideration across the country, a "multipronged attack" by conservative lobbying groups eager to galvanise voters and test the executive judicial system, said Chase Strangio, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union.
"They're strategically looking for ways to codify constitutional wins in their favour that make it more difficult to protect LGBTQ people," said Strangio, who works on transgender equality issues, noting that many of the bills have nearly identical language.
Opponents of the measures have packed into statehouses across the country by the hundreds, citing parental rights and personal freedom.
In several states, opponents have succeeded in halting or amending some of the bills. Last month, measures to restrict transgender youth from accessing medical care stalled here in Idaho and in South Dakota, though a ban on transgender female athletes passed the Arizona House of Representatives last week.
The legislative battles underscore the fraught political divide over LGBTQ rights across the country. Earlier this month, Virginia became the 20th state to ban conversion therapy on minors, curtailing a widely discredited practice that aims to change a person's sexual orientation or gender expression. Ten states have added a nonbinary gender marker to birth certificates.
Still, even if the bills targeting young transgender people do not all pass, advocates said they have served to further stigmatise some of the nation's most vulnerable and isolated youth.
"Their purpose is to assert that trans people do not exist and erase them from public life," said Eliza Byard, executive director of GLSEN, an LGBTQ youth organization, which found in a 2017 survey that 84 per cent of transgender high school students had been bullied or harassed because of their gender.
Lesbian, gay and bisexual high school students are almost five times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers, according to a 2015 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And a study published in 2018 found that gender nonconforming youths are at even greater risk, with more than half of the transgender male teenagers attempting suicide over the three years they were followed.
William Fleming, a 20-year-old transgender man who was raised Mormon in Idaho, has endured the trauma of rejection for most of his life. When he was 5, he said his mother made him wash his mouth out with soap as punishment for him saying he wanted to be a boy.
At 14, when he came out, he said she beat his head against the stairs. He became homeless at 17 after his mother lost their house, and his father refused to let him move in because he was transgender. Before he started physically transitioning at 18, he said prospective employers told him, "We don't hire people like you" and turned him away.
"When the world treats you like they hate you for being trans, it makes you feel so much worse," said Fleming, who has been hospitalised seven times since he was 12 for attempted suicide and self-harm.
Researchers have found that transgender youth who are supported in their transitions experience notably lower rates of depression. And a study published last month found that transgender people who were treated with puberty suppressants during adolescence had lower lifetime risks of suicide as adults.
Over the last 15 years, Dr Ashley Davis, a family physician in Boise, has provided medical care to 270 transgender patients, including more than 40 teenagers, some as young as 14. The teenagers are treated with permission from their parents, she said, while others have driven to her office on their 18th birthday.
"Being able to get medication to help transition gives them back hope," said Davis, who was among dozens of Idaho residents who testified against the measure that would have jailed doctors who provide hormone therapy or surgery to transgender minors.
Idaho lawmakers who had supported the legislation said they believe most young transgender people will outgrow gender dysphoria, and the bill would have protected emotionally troubled children from unnecessary and permanent procedures.
But such claims contradict mainstream research, said Davis and other medical experts.
"All those worries are not founded in science," she said, noting that surgeries like mastectomies for transgender teen boys rarely occur because most medical professionals advise waiting until adulthood anyway.
Plus, the effects of puberty blockers and hormones are often reversible, Davis added, while instrumental in reducing anxiety, depression and suicidal behavior for transgender youth. "It is the greatest treatment I have ever delivered in terms of success rates in children," she said.
The measure in Idaho that would prevent transgender people from changing the gender marker on their birth certificates is likely to land on Gov. Brad Little's desk next week. (A similar Idaho policy was found unconstitutional by a federal court in 2018.)
The other proposal, known as the "Save Women's Sports Act," bars transgender girls from participating in women's sports in public schools and colleges and allows anyone to contest a student's gender. The contested student would be required to undergo and pay for genital exams, along with blood and chromosomal testing, which critics have decried as invasive.
Idaho's attorney general has expressed concerns about the constitutionality of the bill, which also conflicts with policies adopted by the Idaho High School Activities Association and the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
"It makes me feel like the people in power don't really see me as a human," said Percephone Bias, 18, a transgender woman who competed on her high school's varsity cheerleading team in Boise last school year. "They're framing it as though all trans women are some muscular men out to hurt women, which is definitely not reflective of my experience of trans women at all."
The bill's Republican sponsor, Ehardt, rejected claims that the legislation is discriminatory. "This is all about saving opportunities for girls and women," she said in an interview, citing a lawsuit in Connecticut that argues student runners unfairly lost out when competing against transgender athletes.
Ehardt said she received assistance with the bill's language from the Alliance For Defending Freedom, a conservative group in Scottsdale, Arizona, that brought the lawsuit and has been involved in similar legislative efforts across the country, including the transgender athlete ban in Arizona.
For transgender teens and their supportive families in Idaho, the bills have clouded the childhoods they have fought so hard to safeguard. After school one recent evening, "Adam" Kellogg, a 15-year-old transgender boy who asked that his middle name be used to protect his privacy, recalled how uncomfortable he was with his body. He was 10 when he realised he was transgender.
Adam's parents, concerned that their child might face a lifetime of trauma, took him to doctors and counselling sessions with a psychologist, who diagnosed him with gender dysphoria. Supporting him was paramount, his parents said, even if it was initially hard for them to understand. "There were a lot of private tears," said his mother, Andrea Kellogg.
The summer before fifth grade, Adam began transitioning socially. He was thrilled to choose his male name, and he lit up the first time he went shopping for boys' clothes. Getting his first short haircut was even more transformative, Adam said, recalling the joy of seeing his long auburn locks fall away to reveal a trimmed scalp.
His physical transition began with puberty blockers a year later, when he was 11, and testosterone therapy when he was 12. Comfortable in his own skin, Adam blossomed — both emotionally and academically, said his father, Casey Kellogg.
"He just transformed," Kellogg said.
These days, Adam is a thriving ninth grader who is "crushing it" on the boys mountain bike team, said his father, who testified against one of the bills. And Adam has been named "Student of the Month," has been embraced by his classmates and school administrators, and feels accepted by his community.
And so, Adam said, he does not understand why some Idaho lawmakers are so unwilling to accept him. "I'm just a guy."
Written by: Dan Levin
Photographs by: Kim Raff
© 2020 THE NEW YORK TIMES