Lawmakers on Monday will workshop a bill threatening legal action against doctors who offer certain treatments to transgender youth. It’s part of a wave of legislation nationwide that has suicide prevention advocates concerned for the safety of LGBTQ youth.
The Health Quality Subcommittee plans to discuss HB 1365, the “Vulnerable Child Protection Act.” As written, the legislation provides criminal penalties for anything from hormone treatment to gender reassignment surgery. The legislation has now been scheduled for a workshop with no vote expected.
But experts at The Trevor Project say this penalizes medical professionals for working with those suffering gender dysphoria. And it could lead more youth to consider harm to themselves.
“The science, research and academic communities agree: gender-affirming care for transgender and non-binary youth has positive effects on mental health outcomes and overall psychological well-being, along with decreased suicidality,” said Dr. Alexis Chavez, medical director for The Trevor Project.
“Denying transgender patients this medically necessary care is dangerous and recently proposed bans at the state level would be life-threatening.”
Florida will consider the legislation at the same time similar bills advance in other states. South Dakota lawmakers last week advanced a bill out of committee banning medical treatments for transgender youth. A South Carolina Lawmaker introduced a “Youth Gender Reassignment Prevention Act” in November. And the Governor of Texas in October stepped into a custody battle to prevent a child’s mother from pursuing gender reassignment for her seven-year-old, labeling the move as child abuse.
But at The Trevor Project, which for years has worked to lower suicide rates among LGBTQ youth in America, the sudden attacks on gender identity pose a direct threat. Chavez said there has been a direct link between public policy fights over trans rights and calls to the organization from trans youth contemplating self-harm.
“In 2017, The Trevor Project reported that crisis contacts from transgender youth to its suicide prevention lines more than doubled following President Donald Trump’s tweets regarding transgender military service members and the introduction of a “bathroom bill” in the Texas Legislature,” she wrote in a research brief.
“An onslaught of new bills aimed at denying medical treatment to transgender youth could prove just as detrimental.”
The fear of death by suicide for trans youth isn’t a hypothetical. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week released annual mortality and life expectancy data that shows LGBTQ youth are four times as likely to attempt suicide than their same age peers.
Moreover, up to 50 percent of transgender Americans have made a suicide attempt at some point in their lives.
“Suicide is an escalating public health crisis that demands urgent action,” said Amit Paley, The Trevor Project’s CEO and executive director.
“The CDC’s latest findings confirm that suicide rates have increased and further underscore the need for comprehensive prevention solutions, including additional specialized services for LGBTQ youth mental health.”
Moreover, The Trevor Project in June released its own National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, and its findings suggest even more reason for alarm. That research found 39% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past 12 months. Some 54% of transgender and non-binary youth considered, compared to 31% of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth.
About 76% of LGBTQ youth said the current political climate impacted their mental health and sense of self, and 71% reported feelings of hopelessness for at least two weeks in the prior year.
In Florida, the fact this new bill could gain any momentum while the Florida Competitive Workforce Act gathers dust in the hopper makes Florida activists angry.
“Some members who still operate from the old playbook that says in an election year it’s open season on the LGBTQ community, and that it’s still OK to try to earn political points on the backs of the state’s most vulnerable people,” said former Rep. Joe Saunders, now the senior political director of Equality Florida.
Rep. Anthony Sabatini, the bill’s sponsor, did not respond to inquiries from Florida Politics. But the Howey-in-the-Hills Republican spoke to conservative media outlet The Blaze and suggested he was trying to prevent harm to young Floridians.
He said “80%of children who experience gender dysphoria outgrow it, but radical leftists want to make it permanent with dangerous medical procedures simply to further a political agenda.”
That number seems to come from recent reporting on a study by gender-dysphoria specialist Thomas Steensma published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in 2013. The study looked at a set of children who at age 12 were diagnosed with dysphoria, and found that while the condition at an early age can certainly indicate persistent gender identity issues into adulthood, it often is something which disappears over time.
Sabatini to The Blaze accused lawmakers opposed to his bill of putting politics ahead of science.
“Shockingly, the entire Democrat Party has become so radical, that it now defends shutting down puberty for minors and medical sex change for children—it’s mind boggling,” he said.
But Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat and one of three LGBTQ lawmakers in the House, said Sabatini ignores more recent research.
A University of Washington study found that transgender youth who are supported in their gender identity will hit all the same developmental milestones as cisgender youth, for example.
“This bill will push transgender youth into the black market to get health care,” Smith said.
Smith said he has tried to communicate with Sabatini about the bill but to no avail.
“He is making it a crime for a doctor to prescribe hormonal therapy,” Smith said. “This type of medication is common place and is recommended by major national medical associations.”
And Smith worries that whether the legislation moves forward or not, simply holding the policy discussion will pose a public health risk.
“People need to oppose bill,” he said, “but denying trans youth life-saving health care is very dangerous.”
If nothing else, Smith said House Representatives don’t need to be the ones deciding sight unseen what should be the appropriate medical care is that a doctor prescribes to a patient.
“I’m not a doctor. Anthony Sabatini is not a doctor, and he doesn’t understand this issue,” he said.