Metro Weekly

Alabama cop, father of trans woman, tells lawmakers not to ban health care for trans youth

David Fuller pleads with lawmakers not to criminalize health care he believes saved his trans daughter's life

Demonstrators gather at the South Dakota State Capitol in February 2020 to protest a bill to deny gender-affirming health care to transgender youth. – Photo: Greg Latza/ACLU.

An Alabama police officer bore his soul before a panel of lawmakers at the State Capitol in Montgomery who were considering a bill that would bar transgender individuals under the age of 19 from accessing gender-affirming health care treatments.

David Fuller, a sergeant with the Gasden Police Department and a widower raising three children, including a transgender daughter, recounted his journey to acceptance and understanding after his daughter came out five years ago shortly after her sixteenth birthday.

For Fuller, the bill hit close to home: had it been in effect when his daughter came out, the medical professionals who helped his daughter pursue her transition would be risking their licenses and potentially face prison time if Republican lawmakers had their way.

The bill, proposed by State Rep. Wes Allen (R-Troy), would make it a felony punishable by up to 10 years in jail for a doctor or pharmacist to “prescribe, dispense, or administer” puberty blockers or hormones to transgender children, or to perform gender confirmation surgery — something that rarely is performed on minors, even in the context of practitioners who ascribe to the gender-affirming model of care.

Despite testimony from supporters of the bill — including several members of the American College of Pediatricians, a socially conservative advocacy group of health care professionals that advocates against LGBTQ-affirming psychological or medical treatments — alleging that diagnoses of gender dysphoria are rampant, or that therapists are influencing young people to claim they are transgender, Fuller told the House Judiciary Committee in a hearing last Wednesday that he and his daughter, now 21, were not cajoled or pushed into pursuing any treatment against their better judgment.

“There was no move forward that we ever did, whether it was hormones, whether it was therapy, whether it was just showing up at the  doctor’s appointment, I fought this internally tooth and nail,” Fuller said, noting he had been reticent to embrace his daughter’s gender identity.

“But I weighed every option, and those were my only options to keep my kid alive. So any illusion that there’s parents dragging their kids around [to doctors] to be transgender — what parent wants their kid to go through anything more difficult? … I wanted my kids to blend in, to make it easier on themselves, so they could have a clean slate to start with. I didn’t get that with [my daughter]. But I did get the help I needed to handle what she was going through the best we possibly could.”

Fuller told the House Judiciary Committee that he believes gender-affirming care saved his daughter’s life and has helped resolve some of the anxiety or sadness she experienced prior to coming out.

Related: Anti-trans health care bill would force school officials to out transgender students to their parents

“I didn’t understand this. I still don’t, to be honest with you. But I know it’s true. My daughter is my daughter now, started out as my son. But she is absolutely a girl,” he said. “She was not a happy boy. There was a lot of depression, had trouble making friends, even with us, was not overly chatty. But as time went on, she found her way. This isn’t something she got talked into by some girls in high school, and said, ‘Hey, let’s be transgender,’ this is something you could see the progression for years and years. I just missed it, because I was just a guy, a regular dad that didn’t know this stuff existed. And then it was thrown in my lap.

“But the people I was given [to help me], especially at UAB [Medicine, a medial center affiliated with the University of Alabama-Birmingham], the health care I was given there, were given to me as a choice, not as a ‘have-to,’ were presented to my daughter as a choice, not as a ‘have-to.’ The first thing out of their mouth the first day there was ‘There will be no surgeries. We’re going to move slow. This is not going to be a sprint to the finish, no matter what the teenage voices say. This is going to be a long marathon.’

“And here she is at 21 now, and she will talk your living ear off, she’s goofy as heck, as any young lady would be, she’s loving, she’s special, and she’s still in that marathon, that slow slog,” Fuller added. “We still are not making fast decisions. She still understands that she’s got a lot of stuff to learn about herself.”

He also expressed skepticism about the limit on care being set at age 19, noting that he had gone to U.S. Army basic training at Fort Benning with kids who were 17, and that 18-year-olds are allowed to serve their country and make other adult decisions without interference from the state.

See also: Three West Virginia residents sue ban on transgender ban on health care coverage

The House Judiciary Committee did not vote on whether to approve the bill, with Committee Chairman Jim Hill (R-Moody) saying they would address the bill in two weeks after the Alabama Legislature reconvenes following a temporary recess the week of Presidents’ Day.

Hill also indicated he wanted to add an additional amendment to ensure the bill was not infringing on the right of mental health professionals — regardless of whether they embrace the gender-affirming model when treating transgender patients — to offer counsel and medical advice without fear of retribution.

However, on the same day as the House hearing, an Alabama Senate committee approved an identical bill being pushed by Sen. Shay Shelnutt (R-Trussville). Lawmakers are expected to vote on final passage of that bill in the coming weeks. That means the House of Representatives — and specifically the House Judiciary Committee — that is the last obstacle to passing a law criminalizing transgender health care, which would otherwise be expected to pass along party lines.

While such a law would likely be challenged in the courts, advocates are hoping that stories from parents like Fuller’s will make some lawmakers reconsider the bill and the possibility that they may need to learn more about standards of care for gender dysphoria, or even consider the possibility that some of the talking-points they have received regarding transgender medical care are misleading or inaccurate.

Fuller said he couldn’t imagine being called upon, as a police officer, to arrest some of the medical professionals who had helped his daughter with her gender dysphoria, and was incredulous that lawmakers would seek to penalize doctors for sharing pertinent scientific or medical information to patients and their parents.

“They made us feel like we weren’t alone, that we were normal in an abnormal situation and they could help us,” Fuller said. “And they didn’t push anything on us. Just the opposite. They reeled us in at every step. They made sure it was baby steps. It’s been a five-year process now and they haven’t pushed anything on us. Just the opposite. And they are angels to me. And as a police officer, you’re asking me to someday put handcuffs on these people that are heroes in my life? … Please don’t ask me to do that.”

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