Emotions run high as Georgia House panel advances bill limiting transgender care for minors

Georgia State Capitol on mostly sunny dayDXR, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2f/Georgia_State_Capitol%2C_Atlanta%2C_North_view_20160716_1.jpg

by Ross Williams, Georgia Recorder [This article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]


March 15, 2023

If signed into law, Cordele Republican Sen. Carden Summers’ Senate Bill 140 would prevent doctors from providing surgical or hormone treatments for gender dysphoria to people under 18. Minors already on hormones for gender dysphoria could continue receiving treatment. The bill would allow puberty-blocking medicine for transgender youth, which Summers said is intended to provide a pause before choosing whether to undergo irreversible treatment.

A last-minute amendment by Columbia Republican Rep. Jodi Lott removes language protecting doctors from civil or criminal charges for violating the proposed law.

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Members of the GOP-controlled committee passed the amended bill 12-10 despite pleas from transgender people like 18-year-old Leonardo Hinnant, who said he started hormone therapy at 13 and had a double mastectomy at 15.

“Although I could greatly explain the positive impact that transitioning has had on my life, I think that it’s more important for me to talk about if I hadn’t received that care,” Hinnant said. “These life saving treatments are the reason that I am able to speak to you today. I would not be able to attend college. My little brother would not have someone to bother every single day. I would not be here. This bill would restrict essential care for transgender minors, care that I know is the reason that I am living today. The reality of it is this: if this bill passes, transgender kids will die.”

Other transgender Georgians signed up to testify but were unable to speak because of a time limit on the meeting. Among them were Kimberly and Grayson, students at Our Resilient Community, a queer-centered school in Athens.

Kimberly, an eighth grader, had printed out a speech to deliver to the committee.

“This bill is supposedly trying to protect me from something, but it’ll only do harm to me and others like me,” Kimberly read after the hearing. “I don’t know if I could convince you that I exist if me standing here in front of you and saying these words doesn’t do it. I’m a trans Georgian. I need the care this bill is trying to ban. Please do not do this. I’m only 14 years old.”

Grayson, a sophomore, planned to talk about how he felt the day he first started transitioning.

“I finally had a way of feeling comfortable in my own skin,” he said. “It was like a weight was lifted from my shoulders. In the months since, I felt more like myself than ever before. In my mother’s words, it’s like I woke up from a deep sleep or hibernation and was experiencing a long awaited spring.”

Grayson said he is concerned about children who are younger than him not having access to the same care he got.

“I am terrified that they will never receive the help and support that I have and that they will stay in that hibernation throughout their teenage years and miss out on so much joy,” he said.

Our Resilient Community co-director and facilitator Thea Canby said she’s noticed a big difference when students start hormone therapy.

“It changes everything for a kid to think, ‘I am excited about where I’m going to be going in my life and who I’m going to be,’” she said. “And then gradually the change starts and they can swim in a pool and feel okay. They can look in a mirror and be okay. They can hear a recording of their voice and laugh about it. There’s all these things that get better through hormone replacement therapy that are really valuable.”

Canby said the biggest change between kids pre- and post- hormone treatment is just the way they carry themselves.

“And I think if the people in that room could just see trans kids walking – I know it’s silly, but like, look at them before hormone therapy and after – they walk different,” she said. “They walk like they’re alive and they’re going to keep being alive.”

Robust questioning

Summers told committee members the bill is not intended to harm transgender children, but to prevent them from making a decision they will later regret.

“We tried to be as liberal in our thoughts as possible to make sure this bill could work for literally, hopefully, everyone,” he said. “I know a lot of people don’t think it fits that mold. But the bottom line of this bill is simply this: we designed this bill to make a pause for young people we’re going to do. I call it the Protect the Children Act. We don’t want anybody to have gender surgeries under the age of 18 years old. We want them to make their own decisions. At 18 years old, whatever they decide to do is their business.”

Still, he was grilled by Democrats on the committee who disagreed.

Rep. Michelle Au, a physician and Johns Creek Democrat, read from an American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement which says that transgender children understand their gender as consistently as their cisgender peers and benefit from the same level of social acceptance “in contrast to the outdated approach in which a child’s gender-diverse assertions are held as ‘possibly true’ until an arbitrary age.”

“Essentially, they’re saying that the approach taken in your bill, SB 140, is not in line with the current science and policy of the American Academy of Pediatrics,” Au said. “So my question is, senator, why do you think the judgment of the Georgia State Legislature and of you, 99%-plus of which have no clinical training in pediatrics whatsoever, should supersede what the American Academy of Pediatrics has determined to be best practices in caring for gender diverse children?”

“I can’t speak to that article, never read it,” Summers said. “And I’m sure there’s another article out there that would support our side too. But the point I would like to make to you, Rep. Au, is that I’m not trying to override what you’re saying in regards to medical knowledge that you have in that article. I’m simply saying that it has been also written and proven that children have these sort of issues outgrow them as they mature.”

Smyrna Democratic Rep. Teri Anulewicz listed bills prioritized by Republicans last year emphasizing parental control in areas like mask mandates, vaccinations and divisive classroom concepts.

“Can you tell me why this is different from those other issues in which the General Assembly has established and codified that we defer to parental authority?” Anulewicz asked.

“Perhaps we’re including parents and medical professionals,” Summers answered. “That would be my reason for that, because this way, the medical professionals – I don’t want to call any names here, but I’ve had many doctors call and say this gives us some cover, too, because a lot of surgery we’re asked to do, we don’t want to do these surgeries.”

Atlanta Democratic Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver suggested passing such a law would be unprecedented.

“My question is, has the medical board been directed by the General Assembly in any other medical condition of any kind to write rules and regulations?” she asked.

Republican Sen. Ben Watson, chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and a Savannah physician who worked on the bill, said he was not aware of any such case, but said that doctors in parts of Europe have been moving away from providing surgical or hormonal treatments to transgender minors.

“I think that you’ll see, if you look at the Netherlands or Sweden, you’ll see that the pendulum is starting to swing back, it’s started to swing back in Europe, it’s started to swing back here in the United States,” he said. “And I think that most reasonable people will feel that surgery and sex change hormones, which are irreversible for minors, is not an appropriate procedure.”

On Tuesday, a group of 500 Georgia health care providers signed onto a letter calling on the committee not to pass the bill.

“As medical professionals, we are appalled to see politicians promote an agenda with such disregard for standards of medical care,” the letter reads. “Gender-affirming health care is supported by every leading medical and mental health association in the U.S. including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association.”

Potential regrets

Toni Kim, an Atlanta pediatric endocrinologist consulted in the writing of the bill, said some patients will be happier after transitioning, but others may regret it.

“Unfortunately, once you do certain steps in a gender transition, you can’t go back,” she said. “And so the thing that I like about this bill was that it recognizes that there are going to be people who do want to transition, and that’s okay for their choice, because we live in a country where people should be supported in having a different walk of life if it doesn’t hurt other people. And I respect that. But I also also know that there are a lot of children who are hurting, and they blame it on one thing when it’s actually something else, or there are just kids who go through phases.”

At one point, committee Chair Sharon Cooper of east Cobb asked if there was anybody in the audience signed up to speak who had transitioned and regretted it, but none spoke up. Summers said a woman who regretted receiving gender-affirming surgery is flying in Wednesday to speak with the Republican Caucus.

Other Republicans on the committee argued that Georgians are already prevented from making other decisions until they are 18.

“It’s also true that the Legislature sets the voting age at 18,” said Rep. Mike Cheokas, an Americus Republican. “The Georgia Legislature was one of the first in the United States to do that.”

Rep. Katie Dempsey, a Rome Republican, compared the measure to a bill preventing some 17-year-olds accused of a crime from being tried as adults.

“It is profoundly clear that the brain is not fully developed till age 25,” she said. “This is evidence-based science that is true and factual when we talk about that.”

Some transgender people in attendance questioned why the bill seems to prioritize protecting a minority of people who regret receiving gender affirming care when a larger proportion of transgender people wish they could have gotten treatment earlier.

“The argument for regret is, look how bad it would be if these people had a body that wasn’t in line with who they are because they took this medication,” Canby said. “Well, what about the 99% who take this medication that exactly undoes what you’re worried about with this 1%? We’re going to protect the 1% at the cost of the 99%? That does feel like, if the 1% is the cis person and the 99% is the trans person, that feels very discriminatory.”

“This bill is legal gaslighting,” said Charlie Denton, a transgender woman who hoped to speak at the hearing. “It dedicates more words to acknowledging that there’s a percent of people who regret their transitions than it does to acknowledging that there are more people transitioning. This bill is not medically informed. It’s harmful, especially in a legal climate where there aren’t legal protections for trans people in the workplace, in public, in medical contexts. I think worst of all is that this is already a medical procedure that is highly regulated between medical professionals and their patients, between people and their doctors. You don’t need the state acting as a surrogate father figure in these cases.”

At points in the hearing, Cooper seemed to try to comfort some of the transgender people and advocates in the audience and was photographed hugging the crying mother of a transgender child afterward.

“This decision is not easy, and it won’t be made without many of (the committee members) soul searching,” she said. “I only wish there was an accompanying bill, if this one should pass, that says that we will always also stand behind transgender people and transgender children and not let you be discriminated against going forward.”

The bill now heads to the House Rules Committee, and if it passes there, to the full House. If it meets approval there, because of Lott’s amendment, it will need to go back to the Senate for another vote.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

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