Republican House lawmakers have approved a controversial measure limiting the care doctors can provide transgender patients under the age of 18.
The bill was unexpectedly teed up for a vote early Thursday morning and put before lawmakers two hours later.
Under it, doctors will be allowed to prescribe minors drugs that block the effects of puberty, but they cannot use surgical or hormone treatments for gender dysphoria. If the bill becomes law, minors who are already taking hormone treatments will be allowed to continue taking them.
Puberty blockers can be helpful for those who want to transition before puberty or to put off the decision, but they provide no help for people who have already started puberty, said Leonardo Hinnant, an 18-year-old transgender man from DeKalb County.
“I myself had fully completed puberty at 13 when I started discussing hormone therapy with my medical team,” he said. “Puberty blockers were not a viable option for me, and I cannot imagine the pain and anguish I would have had to endure if I couldn’t medically transition until 18.
“These laws are being made from a place of fear and ignorance for people who are different,” he added.
Republicans pushed the bill through the chamber with a 96-75 party-line vote and over the objections of Democrats, transgender Georgians, hundreds of doctors and others who have argued the bill usurps decision-making from parents, impedes the medical community’s ability to serve their patients and threatens the mental wellbeing of those affected.
Doctors who offer the banned treatments could be stripped of their licenses, and the House version dropped a provision that would have protected doctors from civil or criminal charges for violating the proposed law. Because of the change, the bill will go back to the Senate for consideration with a vote possible as soon as Monday. The session ends Mar. 29.
Matéo Penado, a Hall County transgender man, said he fears the legislation will lead to transgender youths experiencing more ostracization. He said he already hears from trans friends whose parents do not support them.
The 22-year-old Georgia State University student worries that if the bill gets Kemp’s signature, those who have supportive families will now face discrimination from the state.
“It’s heart wrenching to see this when a child does receive acceptance from parents, and the parents go through such lengths, multiple therapy meetings, multiple meetings with doctors, multiple blood work appointments –- the amount of blood work you have to do to get on [testosterone], I hate it,” he said. “It’s a lot, but it’s the lengths trans youth and their parents go through so that they can get the gender-affirming and life-saving medical care they need.”
Nicole Gustafson, co-director and facilitator at Our Resilient Community, a queer-focused school in Athens, said she worries about the families of children who are too young to take hormone therapy and will be forced to go through a puberty that does not line up with their sense of gender.
“I work with trans teens,” she said. “I know their struggles. And I know the confidence that emerges when they receive this care at the time that is right for them. I also know how hard it already is to access this care — no one is taking it lightly or receiving it without the support of parents and a medical team who knows their situation personally.”
“No one chooses to be trans, and it is a really difficult thing to bring others into such a personal experience,” she added. “With supportive parents and access to care, these kids thrive and learn. Without those, they face struggles many of us cannot imagine.”
Advocacy groups like Georgia Equality, Voices for Georgia’s Children and others are trying to rally their supporters to decry the bill as the bill nears the finish line.
More than 500 health care providers in Georgia also signed on to a letter sent to lawmakers Monday saying they were “appalled to see politicians promote an agenda with such disregard for standards of medical care.”
Proponents framed the bill as a safeguard to protect children and delay their ability to make a permanent physical change they may later regret.
Rep. Mark Newton, an Augusta Republican and a physician, argued there is a lack of consensus in the broader medical community about how to care for young people who are experiencing gender dysphoria.
And he said some of the national medical groups that have urged state officials to oppose state legislation that would prohibit gender transition-related care have been wrong before, pointing to changing attitudes toward opioids in pain management.
“We all agree, I think, that children do deserve care, including mental health care, they deserve compassion,” Newton said. “This bill offers them the opportunity to be the adult that makes an informed decision on a permanent irreversible change to their own body.”
Newton called the measure a “light touch” that is narrowly written. Another Senate bill that stalled in the Senate would have also barred puberty blocking drugs.
At least 13 Democrats spoke against the bill Thursday, with several of them making emotional pleas to their colleagues to reject the bill. Some of the debate spilled over into unrelated bills, including one allowing children to sell lemonade or other goods on private property without a permit.
“I believe that you mean well, but this is wrong,” said Rep. Karla Drenner, an Avondale Estates Democrat who was the first openly gay Georgia lawmaker.
“To all the children in our state that are going to be negatively impacted, please don’t lose hope. Please don’t give up. Please don’t kill yourself. This world is worth it. We need you,” Drenner said.
Rep. Michelle Au, a Johns Creek Democrat who is an anesthesiologist, called the bill “state-mandated malpractice.” And Rep. Park Cannon, an Atlanta Democrat who identifies as queer, said the measure will just send people to the black market to find gender-affirming medication – a desperate move that has spurred lawmakers to help parents when involving medical cannabis.
Democrats also said their GOP colleagues were stripping parents of the authority to make important health care decisions for their children on the heels of passing a slate of bills last year meant to empower parental decision-making, particularly in K-12 public schools.
“We have codified into law legislation that has decreed that the parents are the ultimate authority to determine whether and when their children receive vaccines, whether and when their children can wear a mask amidst a pandemic, whether and when their children can learn about dark, tricky, complicated, confusing moments in our history,” Smyrna Democratic Rep. Teri Anulewicz said. “We have affirmed in this chamber that parents have that authority.”
This year’s measure follows a controversial bill, which passed in the final minutes of the session last year by adding it to another, that prevents transgender students from playing on sports teams that match their gender identities.
“Nothing in this legislation stops an adult from pursuing a different lifestyle based on their feelings, we must draw a line for the long-term protection of children,” Rep. Will Wade, a Dawsonville Republican, said of SB 140.
This article originally appeared in the Georgia Recorder.
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