Laura Ann Edwards-Leeper (born January 18, 1975) is an American psychologist best known for her work with gender diverse youth. She has become a favored source for journalists promoting the ex-transgender movement and a leading voice in a faction of therapists who have “concerns” that affirmative models of care for trans youth do not have enough gatekeeping.
Edwards-Leeper earned a bachelor’s degree from Lewis & Clark College in 1997. She then attended Bowling Green State University, where she earned a graduate certificate in women’s studies in 2003 and a PhD in 2004. She did internships through Montana State University, Bozeman at Crow/Northern Cheyenne Hospital and through Cambridge Health Alliance/Harvard Medical School. She is married to Todd Steven Edwards-Leeper (born 1973).
2018 Atlantic article
Edwards-Leeper was quoted throughout a 2018 Atlantic article by Jesse Singal on the ex-transgender movement. Similar to the ex-gay movement, the people who promote the medicalized concepts of “desistance” and “detransition” believe that being trans is a disease that can resolve on it own or through medical intervention. Proponents of these loaded terms make several assumptions that are not value-neutral and therefore not scientific.
Singal later presents Edwards-Leeper and fellow clinicians Erica Anderson and Dianne Berg as therapists who have “concerns” that more affirming care for minors may lead to negative transition outcomes. Edwards-Leeper said that her assessment methods had given her a reputation, and critics nearly threw things at her at conferences:
Those conference troubles signaled to Edwards-Leeper that her field had shifted in ways she found discomfiting. At one conference a few years ago, she recalled, a co-panelist who was a well-respected clinician in her field said that Edwards-Leeper’s comprehensive assessments required kids to “jump through more fiery hoops” and were “retraumatizing.” This prompted a standing ovation from the audience, mostly families of TGNC young people. During another panel discussion, at the same conference with the same clinician, but this time geared toward fellow clinicians, the same thing happened: more claims that assessments were traumatizing, more raucous applause.
Edwards-Leeper isn’t alone in worrying that the field is straying from its own established best practices. “Under the motivation to be supportive and to be affirming and to be nonstigmatizing, I think the pendulum has swung so far that now we’re maybe not looking as critically at the issues as we should be,” the National Center for Gender Spectrum Health’s Dianne Berg told me. Erica Anderson, the UCSF clinician, expressed similar concerns: “Some of the stories we’ve heard about detransitioning, I fear, are related to people who hastily embarked on medical interventions and decided that they weren’t for them, and didn’t thoroughly vet their decision either by themselves or with professional people who could help them.”Singal (2018)
Via Jenny Cyphers, an activist in the ex-trans movement:
Two of the most important aspects of my family’s experience that are not adequately addressed in the Atlantic article, are: 1) my daughter was given a clinical diagnosis of gender dysphoria, so she was just as “truly trans” as the next kid, and 2) it was my insistence that my child wait to medically transition, not her therapist’s. My teen’s therapist, Laura Edwards-Leeper, listened to me and agreed. We were lucky. While there are some cautious, thoughtful providers, the current situation in the US is that there is also no oversight. The most vocal professionals are firmly in the affirmation camp which believes, without any long-term data to validate, that withholding hormonal interventions is tantamount to abuse.
2021 60 Minutes segment
Edwards-Leeper appeared on a 60 Minutes segment about the ex-transgender movement and was presented as a practitioner of “comprehensive assessment” in a way that suggested some colleagues were not doing this. When CBS’s Lesley Stahl asked about “this whole area of accepting what young people are saying too readily,” Edwards-Leeper said:
Yes, everyone is very scared to speak up because we’re afraid of not being seen as affirming or supportive of these young people or doing something to hurt the trans community. But even some of the providers are trans themselves and share these concerns.
This is a reference to trans therapist Erica Anderson, who also appeared in the segment.
2021 Washington Post op-ed
Edwards-Leeper again joined fellow conservative clinician Erica Anderson to denounce what they consider insufficient gatekeeping in healthcare for trans and gender diverse youth.
In response, DC-area parents Rachel Cornwell and Liz Matthews wrote:
As parents of transgender youths, we are deeply concerned by Laura Edwards-Leeper and Erica Anderson’s Nov. 28 Outlook essay, “The mental health establishment is failing trans kids.” Though we agree with their conclusion that improvements in care for gender-diverse youths are needed, their alarmist concerns about insufficient psychological evaluations for gender-affirming care are unfounded and sensationalized.
The writers based their opinion on anecdotal experiences and even admitted that “providers and their behavior haven’t been closely studied.” They pointed to a single study of an extremely small number of people who have detransitioned to support their argument in favor of delaying or even denying gender-affirming medical care to gender-diverse youths. They recklessly conflate safe, reversible medical interventions such as hormone blockers with more permanent gender-confirmation treatments such as surgeries, which are typically not performed on minors in the United States. And they dangerously play down the risk of suicide that can result from denying gender-affirming care.
Thousands of trans youths are now thriving because of gender-affirming care. Thankfully, our children are among that number because of the intervention of mental health providers and physicians, as well as the support of our communities. Trans kids need all the support they can get because they live in a world that too often denies and degrades them. That is why it’s such a shame that the authors would increase barriers to accessing gender-affirming care, rather than expand access for all who need it.
Clinician AJ Eckert, who was identified in the piece, wrote:
The essay misrepresented gender-affirming care, which is nuanced, complex and comprehensive. The writers mischaracterized transgender youths and pushed a damaging pseudoscientific narrative that serves to further limit health care for an already underserved, marginalized and vulnerable population. The writers leaned on the World Professional Association for Transgender Health’s standards of care but failed to note that the standards acknowledge the damaging and irreversible consequences of an incongruent puberty, reject the stereotype of trans psychopathology and include harm-reduction strategies.
Contrary to the anti-trans arguments spread throughout mass media and repeated by the writers, research shows that detransition and regret are rare, trans youth suicide rates are alarmingly high, and trans children supported in their identities have better mental health outcomes. One of their most egregious lies was that those opposed to gender-affirming care are being silenced. This article was proof that isn’t true.
Trans children deserve love, support and thoughtful medical care as much as cisgender children do. Pieces such as this are responsible for the closure of gender clinics, anti-trans sentiment and the spate of laws and regulations targeting trans youths.
Edwards-Leeper, L., & Spack, N. P. (2012). Psychological evaluation and medical treatment of transgender youth in an interdisciplinary “Gender Management Service” (GeMS) in a major pediatric center. Journal of Homosexuality, 59 (3), 321-336.
Spack, N. P., Edwards-Leeper, L., Feldman, H.A., Leibowitz, S., Mandel, F., Diamond, D.A., & Vance, S. R. (2012). Children and adolescents with gender identity disorder referred to a pediatric medical center. Pediatrics, 129 (3), 418-425.
Spack, N. P., & Edwards-Leeper, L. (2011). Medical treatment of the transgender adolescent. In M. Fisher, E. Alderman, R. Kreipe, & W. Rosenfeld (Eds). American Academy of Pediatrics.
Edwards-Leeper, L., & Spack, N. P. (2011). Gender identity disorder. In M. Augustyn, B. Zuckerman, & E. B. Caronna (Eds.), The zuckerman parker handbook of developmental and behavioral pediatrics for primary care (3rd ed., pp. 229-233). Philadelphia, PA: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Psychological Evaluation and Medical Treatment of Transgender Youth in an Interdisciplinary “Gender Management Service” (GeMS) in a Major Pediatric Center. Journal of Homosexuality 59(3):321-36. https://doi.org/10.1080/00918369.2012.653302
Cyphers, Jenny (June 25, 2018). What I wish the Atlantic article hadn’t censored. 4thWaveNow: A community of people who question the medicalization of gender-atypical youth https://4thwavenow.com/2018/06/25/what-i-wish-the-atlantic-article-hadnt-censored/
Francis, Mike (March 11, 2021). Psychology Professor Laura Edwards-Leeper Tapped as Expert on Youth Gender Dysphoria and Related Issues. Pacific University Oregon https://www.pacificu.edu/about/media/psychology-professor-laura-edwards-leeper-tapped-expert-youth-gender-dysphoria-and-related-issues
Singal, Jesse (July 2018). When a child says she’s trans. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/07/when-a-child-says-shes-trans/561749/
Dr. Laura Edwards-Leeper, PhD (drlauraedwardsleeper.com)