WASHINGTON — Republican 2024 presidential contender Nikki Haley suggested Sunday night that transgender girls in sports are leading to suicidal ideation in teenage girls.
Haley, a former South Carolina governor and ambassador to the United Nations, made the comment during a CNN town hall event in Iowa when host Jake Tapper asked her how she would define "woke."
"There’s a lot of things. I mean, you want to start with biological boys playing in girl sports. That’s one thing," Haley said. "The fact that we have gender pronoun classes in the military now, I mean, all of these things that are pushing what a small minority want on the majority of Americans, it’s too much. It’s too much."
Haley continued by saying, "The women's issue of our time" is "the idea that we have biological boys playing in girls sports."
"My daughter ran track in high school. I don’t even know how I would have that conversation with her," she added. "How are we supposed to get our girls used to the fact that biological boys are in their locker rooms? And then we wonder why a third of our teenage girls seriously contemplated suicide last year. We should be growing strong girls, confident girls."
In a statement to NBC News, Haley doubled down on her comments.
"We have to grow strong girls, and that is being threatened right now," she said. "Whether it’s biological boys going into girls’ locker rooms or playing in girls’ sports, women are being told their voices don’t matter. If you think this kind of aggressive bullying isn’t part of the problem, you’re not paying attention."
Several mental health experts and LGBTQ advocates expressed outrage on Twitter at Haley's town hall comments.
Tyler Black, a child and adolescent psychiatrist who studies suicide and mental health at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, in Canada, tweeted, "If there is one thing that I can promise in this world, and stake my entire knowledge and expertise as a suicidologist on, it’s that young teenaged girls are not made more suicidal by the presence of trans people."
Anne Marie Albano, a clinical psychologist and founder of the Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders, tweeted, "If Nikki Haley cared about kids, she’d state that surveys show teens are worried about violence & hate being perpetrated against their peers, about gun violence, climate & political unrest in the US. And, she’d do something about all that & not tell lies."
Albano shared a graphic showing issues that young people have worried about, including school shootings, climate change and technology.
"Clinical psychologist here," Heather O’Beirne Kelly, a clinical psychologist and suicide prevention advocate, tweeted. "Nikki Haley’s suggestion that trans youth are responsible for girls’ elevated suicide risks is disgusting. Let’s also be clear that the suicide rate for trans youth is sky high — they need support, not blame from a politician seeking the presidency."
Chasten Buttigieg, husband of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, tweeted, "Nikki Haley suggesting that 1/3 of American teenage girls are contemplating suicide because of the existence of trans people is an unserious, untrue, and hateful thing to say. But hate is the point, isn’t it?"
The executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, Melanie Willingham-Jaggers, said in a statement: "These ongoing attempts from right-wing extremists to paint LGBTQ+ people as dangerous is harmful and disturbing — and this rhetoric has a serious impact on LGBTQ+ youth. Research shows that 41% of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. Safe, affirming learning environments save lives, and we must support leaders who will fight for inclusivity in schools."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released comprehensive studies about a rise in suicidal ideation in teenage girls and LGBTQ students, but no connection was drawn between the presence of transgender youths and those thoughts in teenage girls.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. You can also call the network, previously known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.