Florida senators advance proposal to ban gender-affirming treatment for trans and nonbinary youth | Florida News | Orlando

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Photo by Matt Keller Lehman

Fight for Trans Rights rally on Saturday, March 11, at City Hall in downtown Orlando

Republican Senators on Florida’s Health Policy Senate committee Monday advanced a bill 8–3, along party lines, that would ban gender-affirming treatment for Florida’s transgender and nonbinary youth, and restrict treatment access for adults.

Dozens of speakers, each limited to 30 seconds of testimony, spoke out against the proposal during the public comment portion, telling lawmakers that access to gender-affirming treatment is life-saving, and that restricting access to it could lead to deadly consequences for children and adults who experience gender dysphoria.

Just three of the 12 members of the Health Policy Committee are Democrats. All three voted against the proposal. “This is wrong and it’s an extreme overreach,” said State Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, just before the vote, pushing away her microphone with visible frustration.

The bill, said State Sen. Tracie Davis, D-Jacksonville, “will keep our children hopeless. And it is simply cruel.” He added, “There are children out there who believe they are better off dead because of a lack of support.”

Not a single Republican on the committee who voted to move the bill forward spoke up to explain why they support it.

The bill, SB 254, would ban gender-affirming treatment (such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy) for transgender and nonbinary youth in Florida, prohibit telehealth providers from prescribing treatments for adults, and it would cut off public insurance coverage for the treatments.

Both transgender adults and minors would be affected, according to tweets from civil rights attorney Alejandra Carabello.

The bill would codify the Florida Board of Medicine’s recently approved rule banning gender-affirming care into law, and it specifies the penalties for parents and healthcare providers that violate the law.

Dr. D. Paul Robinson, a pediatrician and co-chair of the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ workforce committee, told lawmakers this bill could deter healthcare providers from coming to Florida, and could exacerbate an existing labor shortage in pediatric medicine. “We’re in trouble over the next 10 years with pediatric specialists, and if we criminalize things, we’re going to make that much worse.”

The proposal, filed by State Sen. Clay Yarborough, R-Jacksonville, would also allow the state to remove a child from a parent’s custody if the child “is at risk of or subjected to” gender-affirming prescriptions or procedures, which the bill describes as “serious physical harm.”

Under the bill, Florida parents would also allow for the alteration of custody agreements involving children who live out of state with a trans-affirming parent — a provision that critics have described as “state-sponsored kidnapping.”

Yarborough, a Jacksonville-based father of four who’s filed a slew of anti-LGBTQ bills this year, said his bill is meant to “protect” children and to allow “kids to be kids.”

He’s described gender-affirming care as drastic and “life-altering,” calling it “mutilation.”

“Government intervention should be a last resort,” said Yarborough. “I filed this legislation because I believe as lawmakers, we do have to draw the line when drastic, life-altering gender dysphoria therapies and surgeries are being prescribed for our children.”

Gender-affirming care (which can be medical or social — like simply using someone’s preferred pronouns) is an evidence-based treatment for gender dysphoria, and it’s endorsed by every major medical association, including the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Gender dysphoria is a profound sense of disconnect between a person’s gender expression and identity versus the sex assigned to them at birth, causing clinically significant distress.

Gender-affirming care has been shown to help reduce the risk of suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts and depression in trans and nonbinary youth, who are at an increased risk for mental health conditions, including eating disorders and substance misuse, in order to cope.

An estimated 16,200 Florida teenagers, roughly 1.32% of teens between the ages of 13 and 17, identify as transgender, according to a June 2022 report from the Williams Institute.

“When you talk about the risks of treatment, don’t forget the risks of depression, higher rates of suicide and anxiety for those who are denied,” said Linda Roberts, a transgender woman, during Monday’s committee meeting.

“This bill ensures death,” said Eimear Roy Culcahy, parent of a transgender child, who struggled to speak through her tears. “This is pro-life care,” she had emphasized, just two hours beforehand during a press conference organized by Equality Florida.

“What you’re doing is taking away life-saving potential opportunity for me and my family. A decision that should be made between me and my healthcare professionals and my therapist that work with my child,” said Judy Schmidt, also a parent of a young transgender child.

Yarborough, like other conservatives, has campaigned on protecting parents’ rights.

One speaker said they would have killed themselves if their father, a trans-affirming parent, hadn’t gotten custody over them during a battle between him and their mother, who they described as “abusive and unaccepting.”

They pulled up a sleeve of their T-shirt during public testimony to reveal multiple self-inflicted scars on their shoulder, now healed over. “When we say that our blood is going to be on your hands, this is what we mean,” they said. “This is the scars of someone that cannot transition. Don’t let this happen to another kid.”

Democratic Sen. Tracie Davis filed an amendment to remove the provision that’d penalize parents who allow their child access to gender-affirming care, but that amendment was shot down. Other amendments filed by Davis and Book — to get rid of the ban on prescribing gender-affirming medication via telehealth, for instance — were rejected without discussion by any of the Republicans on the committee.

The proposal advances a conservative agenda backed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who’s recruited Republican allies in the legislature to draft bills codifying his anti-“woke” priorities, including attacks on the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, that have been replicated across the country.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, at least 340 pieces of anti-LGBTQ legislation have been introduced across the U.S. this year, including at least 20 in Florida, according to advocates.

Other legislative proposals filed by Republican lawmakers this year crack down on drag performances, would water down sex-ed in schools, and would expand Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law by banning classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity up to eighth grade. Currently, it’s prohibited through third grade, and restricted in upper grades.

Diversity programs and majors and minors in Gender Studies, among other subjects, would also be cut from Florida colleges and universities, under a separate GOP proposal that similarly advanced on Monday along party lines.

And while many refer to these battles as simply a “culture war,” critics of DeSantis’ crusade against “wokeness” have argued against divorcing attacks on abortion rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and other social justice issues from the broader economic reality of these restrictions.

“Every culture war is a class war,” said State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, during Equality Florida’s press conference Monday.

This attack on the LGBTQ+ community, Eskamani said, is “absolutely demonizing” people for who they are. She added that it’s also deciding who is able to access care and who isn’t, strictly based on their economic stability and income. “I refuse to live in a world where money determines your ability to live an authentic life,” said Eskamani.

If passed, SB 254 would grandfather in transgender minors who receive gender-affirming care prior to March 16, when the Florida Board of Medicine’s rule is set to go into effect. Otherwise, the law would go into effect immediately upon being signed into law by DeSantis.

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