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Mississippi and Tennessee GOP Move to Ban Lifesaving Health Care for Trans Youth

Advocates say criminalizing gender-affirming care is a direct assault on the physical and mental health of trans youth.

People rally in support of transgender kids in St. Paul, Minnesota, on March 6, 2022.

In moves that alarmed advocates for transgender youth, the Tennessee and Mississippi GOP-dominated legislatures this week sent bills banning gender-affirming care for minors to their Republican governors’ desks.

Even though organizations including the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, and American Psychiatric Association support gender-affirming care for young people, GOP state lawmakers nationwide have recently introduced bills intended to restrict or outlaw it.

The Tennessee House of Representatives on Thursday voted 77-16 on House Bill 1, with three Democrats joining Republicans to pass the measure, which the state Senate passed 26-6 last week.

Under H.B. 1, doctors could not provide healthcare such as hormone therapies, puberty blockers, or surgical procedures to trans minors, with limited exceptions for care that began before the bill would take effect on July 1. Those who violate the pending law could face a state attorney general probe and a $25,000 fine.

As The Tennesseean reported Thursday:

The bill will soon be sent to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk, which kicks off a 10-day countdown, not including Sundays, for Lee to sign it into law. Even if Lee chooses not to sign, the bill becomes law without his signature unless he vetoes it.

Though he rarely takes an explicit position on pending bills, Lee on Friday signaled he is “supportive” of the bill’s content.

ACLU of Tennessee staff attorney Lucas Cameron-Vaughn promised a court fight if the GOP governor does not veto the bill.

“We are deeply disturbed that state politicians have voted to interfere with the ability of families to make decisions, in consultation with medical professionals, to provide critical care for young people who are transgender,” Cameron-Vaughn said. “All Tennesseans should have access to the healthcare they need to survive and thrive.”

“Gender-affirming healthcare for trans youth is safe, necessary, effective, and often lifesaving,” the lawyer stressed. “Legislators are risking trans young people’s health, well-being, and safety with this dangerous legislation. We urge Gov. Lee to veto this overreaching, discriminatory bill, or we will see him in court.”

Cameron-Vaughn’s colleague McKenna Raney-Gray, LGBTQ Justice Project staff attorney at the ACLU of Mississippi, delivered a similar message about House Bill 1125 to GOP Gov. Tate Reeves earlier this week.

After the Mississippi House of Representatives last month passed that bill 78-30, with four Democrats joining Republicans, the state Senate on Tuesday approved it 33-15, voting along party lines.

“This is a devastating development for transgender youth in Mississippi and heartbreaking for all of us who love and support them,” said the ACLU’s Raney-Gray. “This care was already too difficult to access across the state for transgender people of any age, but this law shuts the door on best-practice medical care and puts politics between parents, their children, and their doctors.”

In a letter to Reeves, Raney-Gray wrote that “if enacted, this legislation will deny children lifesaving, medically necessary healthcare and violate the constitutional rights of Mississippians,” and urged him to veto the ban.

However, Reeves vowed to sign the legislation, tweeting Tuesday that “sterilizing and castrating children in the name of new gender ideology is wrong. That plain truth is somehow controversial in today’s world. I called for us to stop these sick experimental treatments, and I look forward to getting the bill.”

Mickie Stratos, president of the Spectrum Center of Hattiesburg, emphasized that “Mississippi legislators are positioning H.B. 1125 as a measure to protect kids, when the reality is that this bill will do the exact opposite. Access to gender-affirming medical care is a top indicator of healthy and positive outcomes for trans people.”

“To criminalize that care is a direct assault on the physical, emotional, and mental health of trans youth, and we will see negative outcomes for our trans youth and their families in [Mississippi] as a result,” they warned. “Regardless of the outcome of this legislation, we will remain here in Mississippi to support, affirm, love, and care for the trans folks and their families impacted by this attack.”

Ivy Hill, director of gender justice for the Campaign for Southern Equality, said that “this bill — and an overwhelming wave of similar legislation moving quickly in states across the country — is cruelly targeting transgender youth and their doctors. To every trans young person who feels attacked, marginalized, or fearful for the future: Please know that you are loved, you are supported, and there is queer community across the state and nationwide who care about you and are joining with you in solidarity.”

As part of that wave, GOP Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed into law a ban on gender-affirming care for youth last month, and Republican South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem signed another last week.

While similar bills have advanced in Nebraska and Oklahoma, “a federal judge who blocked Arkansas’ ban on gender-affirming care for minors is now considering whether to strike down the law as unconstitutional,” The Associated Press reported Thursday. “A similar ban in Alabama has also been temporarily blocked by a federal judge.”

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