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TN Senate Passes Bill Criminalizing People Who Help Trans Youth Access Care

“This is an absolutely horrifying development in Tennessee,” LGBTQ legislative researcher Allison Chapman told Truthout.

The Tennessee Capitol is pictured in Nashville, Tennessee.

On Thursday, the Tennessee Senate approved a measure that would criminalize helping transgender youth access gender-affirming care without parental consent. The bill is expansive in its scope, and could potentially also criminalize people who offer information about health care options to young transgender people in Tennessee.

“This is an absolutely horrifying development in Tennessee. The law could lead to felony charges against any adult who provides information about gender affirming care to trans teens if they don’t have parental permission,” LGBTQ legislative researcher Allison Chapman told Truthout.

Senate Bill 2782 threatens any adult in Tennessee who “recruits, harbors, or transports” a minor for the purpose of accessing gender-affirming care with a Class C felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The law is extremely similar to an “anti-abortion trafficking” law the Senate approved the day before.

“We’ve had two bills in two days regulate the types of conversations people can have with each other,” said state Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D). “We shouldn’t be trying to violate constitutional rights and that’s what this is trying to do.”

Critics have highlighted that infractions of the anti-trans law could vary widely, from simply discussing a website with a teenager to facilitating their travel to a state that has enacted safeguards for gender-affirming care.

“The threat of this law could result in activists and advocates like myself refusing to talk to transgender teens within Tennessee in fear of being arrested on a felony,” Chapman said.

Tennessee is one of 23 states that currently ban gender-affirming care for transgender youth, according to the Movement Advancement Project. Five states — Alabama, Florida, Idaho, North Dakota and Oklahoma — have made providing best practice medical care for transgender youth a felony.

In some states, such as Mississippi and Iowa, bans on gender-affirming care have been expanded to include prohibitions on “aiding and abetting” such care. These measures have raised concerns that counselors, voice therapists, and LGBTQ+ organizations could also be targeted. However, Senate Bill 2782 would be the first law in the country to apply over state lines.

“The Tennessee bill is slated for a subcommittee hearing on April 16th. If the bill passes, there could be a showdown between the state and other states that have acted to protect their transgender citizens and citizens seeking abortions,” transgender activist and journalist Erin Reed wrote on her blog. “Likewise, there could be an enormous chilling effect on providing information about transgender healthcare to minors in the state.”

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, state legislators have introduced 484 anti-LGBTQ bills this legislative session — 34 of which are in Tennessee.

“LGBTQ+ people, especially trans kids, have been under intense attack the past two years in Tennessee. This leads to unsupportive or even hostile environments for LGBTQ+ youth within all aspects of their lives,” Chapman told Truthout. “The complex and multifaceted attack on trans youth in the state will lead to a situation where it’s next to impossible for anyone to support trans youth ultimately leading to intense trauma or even death.”

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