Metro Weekly

Tennessee governor bans transgender youth from accessing gender-affirming medical care

LGBTQ advocates accuse Gov. Bill Lee of making Tennessee "a pioneer in anti-transgender discrimination" with his recent bill signings.

Tennessee, trans, transgender
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee – Photo: Facebook.

In what is becoming an everyday occurrence, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) has signed yet another bill targeting LGBTQ people, this time fixating on transgender youth suffering from gender dysphoria.

Lee signed a bill, SB 126, into law banning transgender youth from accessing gender-affirming health care treatments such as puberty blockers or hormone therapy. Under the law, doctors and medical providers are prohibited from prescribing such treatments, except in rare cases such as growth deficiencies that are unrelated to gender dysphoria.

Tennessee becomes the second state, after Arkansas lawmakers overrode a veto by Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) earlier this year, to ban such treatments for minors, regardless of individual circumstance or unique medical needs, under the guise of “protecting” youth from undergoing an allegedly harmful and “irreversible” gender transition, saying they are too young to be making such serious decisions — even though nearly all children receiving affirming care have previously obtained parental consent.

However, medical experts have testified that the effects of puberty blockers, which are often prescribed to trans youth to delay the onset of puberty and physical characteristics that do not align with one’s gender identity, are reversible. Additionally, opponents of the bill note that it usurps parental authority and eliminates any semblance of medical privacy, with the state determining which medical treatments are sufficient for transgender youth. 

The bill was opposed by several prominent medical and child welfare groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association. In fact, the AMA recently warned governors not to sign bills restricting health care options for transgender youth, noting that denying care is likely to exacerbate mental and physical health problems.

For instance, transgender individuals are already up to three times more likely than the general population to report or be diagnosed with mental health or substance use disorders, most of which stem from societal stigma, stress, and feelings of loneliness or isolation.

Additionally, the AMA noted in its letter to governors, multiple studies show that access to gender-affirming care reduces the rates of depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation among patients. It also leads to better physical outcomes, because access to affirming medical care under the supervision of a doctor means trans individuals will not seek out hormones, silicone injections, or other drugs on the “gray” or “black” markets, where there is less regulation and materials may not be as safe — potentially leading to additional health problems or even life-threatening medical emergencies.

“We believe it is inappropriate and harmful for any state to legislatively dictate that certain transition-related services are never appropriate and limit the range of options physicians and families may consider when making decisions for pediatric patients,” the AMA wrote.

See also: Tennessee forces private businesses to post “warning signs” if they have trans-friendly restrooms

Besides the ban on trans health care, Lee has recently signed several other anti-LGBTQ bills into law, including a first-of-its-kind bill that allows school districts to be sued if a cisgender person sees a trans person entering, using, or exiting a multi-user restroom or other facility that does not match their assigned sex at birth.

The governor signed a bill barring transgender athletes from competing on sports teams matching their gender identity, and another requiring school districts to alert parents 30 days in advance — allowing them the chance to “opt out” of a lesson — before sexual orientation or gender identity can be mentioned, even in passing or in reference to historical facts. He also signed a bill that seeks to shame establishments that allow transgender customers to use restrooms matching their gender identity by requiring them to post warning signs informing people of the mere possibility that a transgender individual might be inside.

LGBTQ advocates eviscerated Lee for caving to the whims of conservative lawmakers, who have made anti-transgender legislation the center of their agenda ahead of next year’s midterm elections — not only in Tennessee, but several other Republican-leaning states where similar bills have been introduced.

“If lawmakers really care about the best interests of trans youth, they would focus on improving access to quality health care instead of playing doctor themselves,” Alphonso David, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. “Patients, parents and health care providers should be guided by science and medical best practices rather when seeking treatments, not the whims of the state legislators.

“Gov. Lee has made Tennessee a pioneer in anti-transgender discrimination by signing the first and second bathroom bills since HB2 in recent days,” David continued. “Unfortunately, his decision to sign SB 126 therefore comes as no surprise. He and his anti-equality colleagues are advancing policy based on fear, not science and they will ultimately lose this fight.”

“Instead of focusing on real issues affecting the people of Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee and his fellow Republicans have shown they have no shame. The Governor has told transgender youth they can’t use the bathroom at school, they can’t play school sports alongside their peers, and they can’t have LGBTQ people or issues discussed in the classroom, including in history or literature,” HRC Associate Regional Campaign Director Melodía Gutiérrez added. “Now, he thinks he knows better than their doctors and parents, too. Shame on Governor Lee for letting anti-LGBTQ extremists make Tennessee their playground.”

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