As It Happens

Alabama may soon make this transgender teen's medical treatment illegal

Syrus Hall, 17, says his life has improved dramatically since he started taking testosterone. But if some Alabama lawmakers have their way, the transgender teen's medical treatment will soon be illegal.

Senate passes bill to criminalize gender-affirming care for trans kids, force school staff to out students

Syrus Hall, 17, and his mother Carla Saunée, are speaking out against a proposed Alabama law that would criminalize gender-affirming care for transgender minors like Hall, and force teachers like Saunée to out transgender students to their parents. (Submitted by Carla Saunée)

Syrus Hall, 17, says his life has improved dramatically since he started taking testosterone. 

"I'm not as uncomfortable and scared as I was to go in public," he told As It Happens host Carol Off. "I don't feel, like, upset about how I look or how I sound or how I feel all the time."

But if some Alabama lawmakers have their way, the transgender teen's medical treatment will soon be illegal.

A proposed bill that passed in Alabama's Senate on Tuesday would make it a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, for a doctor in Alabama to prescribe puberty-blockers or hormones or perform surgery to aid in the gender transition of people 18 years old or younger.

"When I heard about it, I just started, like, crying on my couch because I was just so upset about it," Hall said. 

Senate Bill 10 — dubbed the Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act — cleared the state Senate with no Democratic support and awaits a vote in the Republican-dominated House of Representatives. Republican Gov. Kay Ivey has not said whether she'll sign it.

"It just doesn't make any sense to me," Hall said. "How is it a compassionate act when they're actively putting children into a more stressful environment?"

A 'slate of hate'

Lawmakers 16 other states have introduced measures targeting health care for transgender youth amid a campaign encouraged by the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Heritage Foundation and other groups aligned with the Republican Party. Companion bills would prohibit transgender girls from playing women's sports at school. 

Over the last year, 174 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in the U.S. over the last year — 95 of the bills aimed specifically at trans people, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

LGBTQ advocates are calling it a "slate of hate."

"It is an organized national effort," said Carmarion D. Anderson, Alabama director for the Human Rights Campaign. "Shame on any politician who will vote for hateful, mean-spirited, discriminatory bills." 

Sydney Duncan holds a sign during a rally against Alabama's so-called Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act. (Julie Bennett/Getty Images)

Alabama's bill not only targets medical providers, but also educators. It would make it illegal for school faculty and staff to "withhold from a minor's parent or legal guardian information related to a minor's perception that his or her gender or sex is inconsistent with his or her sex."

That means school officials would be forced to out transgender kids to their parents, says Carla Saunée, a teacher and Syrus Hall's mom.

"If I don't tell, then I can get in trouble. I could lose my certification, and I wouldn't be able to teach," Saunée told Off.

"Students are who they want to be when they're in school. You know, they're not always exactly who they are with their mom and dad. When they're at school, they're in a safe place … and I feel like this will take away the trust in the transgender population with those students at school, because then they're not going to feel like they can trust the environment that has been built for them."

Hall, 17, says his life has improved dramatically since he started taking testosterone. His mom has noticed the change too. (Submitted by Carla Saunée)

Saunée says she's worried what this bill might mean for her son. 

Hall has been taking testosterone since August 2020. He and his mom have to get up at 3 a.m. to drive the four hours from Mobile, Ala., to Birmingham and back to get the treatment.

But Saunée says it's worth it to see her son feeling happy and healthy in his own skin.

"It's been a huge change," she said. "Just his overall happiness and wellbeing and the cohesiveness and closer relationship … that we have now, especially since he can truly be himself."

'The whole point is to protect kids'

Supporters of the bill say they are trying to protect children from decisions that should wait until adulthood.

"It's wrong for this to happen to kids. Children aren't mature enough to make these decisions on surgeries and drugs," said Republican Sen. Shay Shelnutt, who sponsored the bill. "The whole point is to protect kids."

Most major medical institutions in the U.S. recommend gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth, including the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

A study published last year in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics found that transgender teens who were able to receive treatments to suppress puberty were less likely to consider suicide.

Shelnutt admitted after the Senate vote on Tuesday that he never spoke with a trans youth while preparing the bill — a fact that Hall says is incredibly frustrating.

"I want him to know that him trying to protect us isn't exactly the protection he thinks it is. It's just putting us into a more stressful situation where we have to wait longer to be happy. We have to wait longer to actually be ourselves," Hall said.

"We don't just decide one day that we're trans. It's a process. And it's not like we just decide to start hormones. You have to talk to a mental health professional. You have to talk to medical professionals. And the parents have to say that they're all right with it. It's not a decision we just make on our own. It's a decision that includes many adults as well and professionals."

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from The Associated Press. Interview with Syrus Hall and Carla Saunée produced by Sarah Jackson. 

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