The Current

Proposed anti-trans laws show anti-LGBT groups are 'running out of ideas': advocate

Multiple U.S. states have introduced bills that would prevent trans youth from accessing gender-affirming care.

Several states reviewing bills that criminalize provision of gender-affirming health care

LGBT protesters stage a demonstration outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., in October, 2019. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

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A slew of U.S. bills aimed at prohibiting gender-affirming health care for trans youth are being proposed because "opponents of LGBTQ equality are running out of ideas," says one advocate.

"This has been a growing trend over the course of the last several years, where we've seen opponents of LGBTQ equality really target transgender children," said Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel for Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group.

Gender-affirming care includes treatments that transgender people undergo in order to transition, and may include hormone therapy or surgeries. 

Oakley said her organization is tracking 21 bills that target the provision of this health care. None of the proposed legislation is currently in effect — a bill passed in Arkansas met with legal challenges — but Oakley said she's very concerned about the consequences if the laws are enacted.

In Idaho, there is a proposal to punish this health-care provision with up to life in prison; while in Texas, a judge has temporarily blocked a directive from Republican Gov. Greg Abbott that parents who provide this care for their children be investigated for child abuse. 

Oakley said anti-LGBT campaigners are exploiting a lack of public understanding about "the nuts and bolts of what it means to be a trans kid," in order to sow fear among "even fair-minded folks, who are in favour of equality."

Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel for Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group. (Submitted by Cathryn Oakley)

"This is about politicians who are trying to score political points on the backs of trans kids, and they just don't care about the consequences," she told The Current's Matt Galloway. 

This month, Alabama state representatives advanced a bill that would make it punishable by up to 10 years in prison for a doctor to provide gender-affirming health care to a minor. The bill was sponsored by Republican state representative Wes Allen, who argues it's intended to protect children too young to make the decision, and is similar to legislation barring children from cigarettes and alcohol.

"It is not good to give these medications to these children, and I consider it to where it would be abuse to give these long-term drugs to these children," he told legislators earlier this month.

His position is not shared by some of the largest medical bodies in the U.S., including the American Medical Association, which has repeatedly opposed government intrusion as "detrimental to the health of transgender and gender-diverse children and adults."

In a letter to legislators last April, the AMA pointed to evidence "that forgoing gender-affirming care can have tragic consequences," including higher levels of mental health disorders, and suicide. 

In a separate statement reiterating its position in June, the organization stated that "the majority of transgender and diverse-gender patients report improved mental health and lower rates of suicide after receipt of gender-affirming care."

Elijah Bayy worries that the proposed legislation will have a harmful impact on trans youth who are still in the process of coming out. (Submitted by Elijah Bayy)

Bills 'scary and stressful' for trans kids

In Alabama, 18-year-old Elijah Baay says they feel lucky to have had a lot of support when they came out as non-binary — but they worry about the impact of the Alabama bill on younger people.

"I think mostly this has been harmful to people who are not out yet, because it is spreading a lot of misinformation to parents who may or may not be supportive," Baay said. 

"It is difficult for them to convince their parents, like, no, the legislator is not correct in this situation."

Oakley echoed those concerns, saying "trans kids are being really impacted by this legislation, even if it doesn't pass, the conversation is scary and stressful and othering."

Baay was intending to undergo top surgery this year before starting college. If the bill passes, they may travel out of state for the procedure, but said "that just adds another layer of complication to all of it."

WATCH | Arkansas ban leaves families with difficult choice

Arkansas ban on gender-affirming care for minors leaves families with difficult choice

1 year ago
Duration 5:17
Some families of transgender kids in Arkansas fear they will be forced to leave the state if they want their children to keep receiving hormone treatments or puberty blockers after a ban on those treatments for minors.

Pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Hussein Abdul-Latif said not all families will have the means to cross state borders for help.

That could mean an "exacerbation of their own anxiety and depression … and increasing the potential for suicidal attempts or suicidal success, unfortunately," said Abdul-Latif, who provides hormone therapy and transition support for trans youth at Children's of Alabama hospital.

It could also mean trans youth and their families turn to ordering medication online "that is not vetted and that is potentially not safe," he said.

Abdul-Latif hopes that legal challenges can stop the Alabama bill becoming law, but if that fails, he said he will face a tough decision around providing care that he thinks is important.

"I will have to do lots of soul-searching and decide eventually if I plan to break the law," he said.

Baay also thinks the anti-trans legislation is being deployed "for votes and political clout."

If they could speak to legislators, Baay said they'd want to share their story, because talking about transgender experiences has helped the people in their life understand. 

"I find education is a large part of whether or not people support trans people a lot," they said.

Written by Padraig Moran, with files from The Associated Press. Produced by Idella Sturino, Paul MacInnis and Cameron Perrier.

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