Metro Weekly

Tennessee Republicans Push Another Bill Attacking Trans Health Care

Bill would allow youth who experience "regret" over transitioning to sue their parents and doctors, with fines of $25,000 per violation.

Tennessee State Capitol – Photo: Andre Porter, via Wikimedia.

Republican lawmakers in Tennessee have passed yet another bill seeking to block transgender youth from accessing gender-affirming health care treatments for the purpose of transitioning. 

The bill, titled the “Protecting Children from Gender Mutilation Act,” was introduced on Wednesday by Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson and House Majority Leader William Lamberth in their respective chambers. 

Under the proposed measure, health care providers would be barred from providing treatments “performed for the purpose of enabling a minor to identify with, or live as, a purported identity inconsistent with the minor’s sex, or treating purported discomfort or distress from a discordance between the minor’s sex and asserted identity.”

In laymen’s terms, that means that any transition-related medications or procedures, including puberty blockers, hormone therapy, or gender confirmation surgery, would be off-limits to minor patients struggling with gender dysphoria.

As has become common for this kind of anti-transgender legislation, the bill includes exceptions for minors who may require puberty blockers or hormone therapy for other conditions not related to gender dysphoria, and allows surgical interventions on intersex children to force them to alter their bodies to conform to societal or stereotypical expectations of what constitutes “male” or “female” — despite the fact that the gender chosen by parents or doctors may not match the child’s gender identity.

The bill would also allow minors who undergo such treatments but later experience “regret” or “remorse” — despite a recent Dutch study of transgender youth, published in the medical journal The Lancet, claiming that 98% of children who transition continue to identify as transgender years later — to sue their parents for consenting to such treatments, and sue their former health care providers for up to 25 years afterwards for recommending those treatments. 

The bill allows the courts to impose a $25,000 fine for each violation, and allows the Attorney General to bring legal action against physicians who prescribe medications or perform surgeries to assist in a transition — event though most physicians advise delaying surgery until a minor has reached adulthood. The Attorney General’s office would also be tasked with establishing a process for reporting such violations, reports The Tennessean

Given the overwhelming margins that Republicans enjoy in both chambers, the bill is all but certain to pass in the next legislative session, which begins in January.

Lawmakers previously passed a similar bill in May 2021 that barred gender-affirming care for minors, but the language in that bill applied only to patients who had not yet experienced puberty — something that even advocates of gender-affirming care do not support, as puberty blockers are only supposed to start after a patient has begun experiencing puberty. 

Both Lamberth and Johnson have campaigned against the very idea that someone can be transgender, and have accused doctors who treat children with gender dysphoria of “mutilating” children. Lamberth also noted that he had worked with Matt Walsh, the conservative podcaster and Daily Wire columnist, in crafting the bill, according to The Hill.

Social media posts from Walsh went viral earlier this year after he claimed that Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee “chemically castrates” minors and posted videos showing doctors explaining what transition-related surgery involves. The tweets led to a barrage of threats against the hospital, which was forced to shift to virtual telehealth appointments for the safety of patients and employees.

Gov. Bill Lee subsequently called for an investigation into the clinic, claiming it raised “serious moral, ethical and legal concerns,” and passed his concerns onto the Attorney General’s Office. More than 60 Tennessee House Republicans, also inspired by Walsh’s social media posts, penned a letter to Vanderbilt Medical Center asking it to immediately stop performing gender confirmation surgeries on minors and promising to take action in the next legislative session. 

Although Vanderbilt University Medical Center accused Walsh of selectively editing the videos and misrepresenting facts about the care provided to young transgender patients, it also announced last month that it would be pausing already rare gender-affirming surgeries for transgender youth.

Chris Sanders, the executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, said that the “danger level” of the bill passing is extremely high, because the majority leaders in both chambers are sponsoring it — almost ensuring passage. 

“Our view is we have to try and fight it during the session, even if it’s going to pass. We owe that to transgender and nonbinary youth,” he said.

Sanders told Metro Weekly that some reporters have been “flabbergasted” that lawmakers would move forward with a divisive bill after the GOP failed to deliver on its electoral promises of a “red wave,” in part due to some candidates’ divisive rhetoric, especially on social issues. But, he said, “the so-called ‘national narrative’ doesn’t apply here.” 

Sanders says opponents of the bill also have concerns about the level of government intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship that the Republican-sponsored bill would dictate, and the bad precedent it would set for other medical decisions unrelated to transgender health care.

“Government should not be involved in personal medical decisions. Trans youth and their counselors, parents, and physicians go through a deliberative process. They do not make these choices on a whim,” Sanders said. “There is no need for the government to be involved in that.”

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