Republicans speed transgender therapy bill to passage
Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, photographed in Tennessee Senate Chambers on Feb. 13. Johnson sponsored a bill to ban gender-affirming care for transgender minors. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Despite the threat of legal action, supermajority Republicans passed legislation Monday restricting transgender therapy and surgery for anyone under 18 in Tennessee.
As amended, the bill clarifies that hormones and puberty blockers can be distributed and that the legislation won’t apply until July 1, 2023.
Brought by Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson in response to allegations by a right-wing radio show host that Vanderbilt University Medical Center did gender-affirming surgery on minors, Senate Bill 1 prohibits health-care providers from performing medical procedures to enable a minor to identify or live with a “purported identity” other than the minor’s sex.
Vanderbilt has said it followed state law but that it would put its clinical procedures on hold. The hospital also was accused of pushing the procedures because they were a strong revenue producer.
On the Senate floor Monday, Johnson, R-Franklin, cited a medical expert who said gender-affirming treatment can cause permanent damage to minors. He also quoted a person who testified in committee last week about her disenchantment with going through gender-affirming surgery for breast removal and other changes at the age of 17.
“Body parts won’t regrow when they’re removed,” Johnson said.
He argued that gender-affirming science is “unsettled at best” and that treatment can have long-term negative effects. Johnson encouraged mental health treatment for minors who identify as the other sex.
The measure would impose licensing sanctions against physicians who provide gender-affirming care and enable those dissatisfied with their treatment to take legal action.
“The reality is these kids are victims,” Johnson said.
The House version of the bill sponsored by House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, is set to be considered Wednesday in the Civil Justice Committee.
Senate Democrats voted against the measure Monday, with Sen. Jeff Yarbro of Nashville contending that the measure wouldn’t stop medical procedures dealing with hormones.
“This isn’t regulating people’s conduct. It’s regulating what they believe,” Yarbro said.
State Sen. Heidi Campbell, a Nashville Democrat, argued that the legislation will take away freedoms. She also pointed out that the people who testified in committees weren’t Tennessee constituents and that the same language is surfacing in legislation across the country.
Likewise, Senate Minority Leader Raumesh Akbari said such medical decisions should be made by parents, psychiatrists and medical doctors.
“We’re legislating our personal beliefs in a blanket ban,” Akbari said.
The American Civil Liberties Union, its Tennessee arm and Lambda legal said Monday they will file a lawsuit immediately against new state restrictions, contending the bill infringes on the rights of transgender youth and their families.
Current state law allows post-pubescent teens to have gender-affirming care. The ACLU points out similar restrictions in Alabama and Arkansas have been enjoined by federal courts.
“Trans youth inTennessee deserve the support and care necessary to give them the same chance to thrive as their peers. Gender-affirming care is a critical part of helping transgender adolescents succeed in school, establish healthy relationships with their friends and family, live authentically as themselves and dream about their futures,” said ACLU attorney Lucas Cameron-Vaughn in a statement. “Politicians are risking the lives of young people by forcing their way into family decision-making, a fundamental right which has traditionally been protected against government intrusion.”
The ACLU contends the legislation is filled with misinformation and that committee testimony supporting it was full of “falsehoods.”
The legislation says the medical procedures that change a minor’s hormonal balance, remove sex organs or change the person’s physical appearance are harmful, can lead to sterility, increased risk of disease and illness and sometimes fatal psychological consequences. The legislature further claims that such procedures are “experimental in nature and not supported by high-quality, long-term medical studies.”
Politicians are risking the lives of young people by forcing their way into family decision-making, a fundamental right which has traditionally been protected against government intrusion.
– Lucas Cameron-Vaughn, ACLU
The legislation points out that Dr. John Money, founder of the Johns Hopkins Gender Identity Clinic, abused minors in his care, which led to the suicides of two people — claims that are at least partially false. It also claims the medical procedures are being performed with “rapidly increasing frequency” and that guidelines have changed in recent years.
Furthermore, the bill claims pharmaceutical companies that contributed to the nation’s opioid epidemic have tried to profit from the use of drugs and devices for transgender therapies and surgeries.
The legislation also goes as far as to say health-care providers in Tennessee have posted pictures of naked minors online to advertise these types of surgeries and that Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, “an organization responsible for killing tens of thousands of unborn children, has become one of the largest administrators in this state of such medical procedures.”
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