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Wisconsin County Declares Itself a Sanctuary for Trans People

The resolution "draws a circle of safety and protection around trans people," its sponsor said.

On Friday, local lawmakers of a county board located in southcentral Wisconsin voted near unanimously on a resolution to become a sanctuary for transgender people in the state and elsewhere.

The Dane County Board of Supervisors voted 25-1 to back a resolution that seeks to protect the rights of transgender and nonbinary individuals in the event that a state proposal endangering those rights — including access to gender-affirming health care — is passed by the GOP-controlled Wisconsin legislature.

Dane County is the first in the nation to declare itself a sanctuary county.

The likelihood of an anti-trans bill passing into state law is minute, yet not impossible. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who has promoted and supported LGBTQ causes, would almost certainly veto any bill that would attack trans rights. Evers’s term doesn’t expire until 2027.

Still, there’s a slim possibility that the state legislature could pass a bill to override a veto between now and then. Republicans have achieved a veto-proof majority in the State Senate and could feasibly pass a restrictive bill that Evers couldn’t veto if just a few seats flip from Democrat to Republican in the State Assembly between now and the end of his term.

Dane County encompasses the state’s capital city Madison, which is considered a progressive community that supports LGBTQ causes. The resolution that passed on Friday declares that, if a state law in the future “imposes criminal or civil punishments, fines or professional sanctions on any person or organization that seeks, provides, receives or helps someone to receive gender-affirming care,” the board would request the minimum of enforcement from the county sheriff’s department.

The resolution “simply draws a circle of safety and protection around trans people and those that they trust and love so they are not threatened by outside attacks,” said County Supervisor Rick Rose, who introduced the resolution earlier this month.

The resolution protects the ability of transgender and nonbinary people to seek gender-affirming care, including trans children. Several local and state governments across the country have passed bills restricting such care for kids, even though dozens of health organizations have said doing so is dangerous and that gender-affirming care is safe, and often life-saving, for those who receive it.

Far right activists attended the meeting that preceded the vote on the resolution, voicing their dissatisfaction with it by using transphobic language and citing unfounded and false allegations that children were being harmed by receiving such care. Board members also received threatening emails, including from one person in the county who said that, if they voted in favor of the resolution, they should “watch how fast Second Amendment rights are exercised” in response to it.

But some who spoke in favor of the resolution included trans people who themselves have benefited from gender-affirming care, such as a 12-year-old trans child who shared their experience to tout the positive benefits their treatment — and their ability to access it — created for them.

“A lot of the people opposing this have talked a lot about kids and have said like they’re speaking on behalf of kids,” that person said. “I’m 12, and I’m trans, and I live in Dane County. I’m very fortunate that I do live in Dane County because I have received access to gender-affirming care and, quite honestly, that has saved my life.”

The resolution, though largely symbolic at this moment, still matters, LGBTQ advocates noted.

“It’s very heartening to know that we have support in this local community and that people are pushing back against the national rhetoric,” said Taylor Greene, a transgender man who co-founded TRACE, an app that allows transgender people to document changes in their bodies as they undergo medical or pharmaceutical transition.

Several other local and state governments across the U.S. have passed similar resolutions declaring themselves sanctuaries for transgender and nonbinary individuals. Hundreds of thousands of transgender Americans from states across the country have had to flee from their homes to venture to more welcoming parts of the country, due to an onslaught of legislation in a number of states that have targeted them.

The Kansas City, Missouri, city council, for example, passed a resolution in May condemning that state’s anti-trans laws and declaring itself a sanctuary city for transgender people, where officials won’t prosecute or fine any person or organization promoting or seeking gender-affirming care.

Twelve states across the U.S. have passed similar declarations, describing themselves sanctuary states for transgender people. The New York state legislature recently passed such a measure earlier this month, although Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) has yet to sign it into law.

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