Transgender S.C. children could be harmed with bill, advocates say 

Taking Care

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A bill was filed in the S.C. House of Representatives on Nov. 20, Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day set aside to remember and honor those who have lost their lives to trans violence. But this bill does nothing to address such intolerance, and some say it could perpetuate the violent acts.

Proposed by S.C. Rep. Stewart Jones, a Republican from Laurens, the bill's sole sponsor, H. 4716 is currently sitting in the House Committee on Medical, Military, Public, and Municipal Affairs. Jones' proposal was framed as a bill to help children, but the proposal's language troubles members and allies of the LGBTQ community.

The bill, titled The Youth Gender Reassignment Prevention Act specifies that trans children under the age of 18 would be unable to receive medical interventions to:

• Suppress the development of endogenous secondary sex characteristics.

• Align the patient's appearance or physical body with the patient's gender identity.

• Alleviate symptoms of clinically significant distress resulting from gender dysphoria.

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While Jones has said that trans kids would still be able to get mental health services, counseling, and medication, the bill defines "gender reassignment medical treatment" as any health care that "facilitates the transitioning of a patient's assigned gender identity to the gender identity experienced and defined by the patient."

Put simply, it bans doctors from providing a wide range of medical treatment to those under the age of 18 for gender dysphoria, the distress people feel caused by a mismatch between their gender identity and assigned sex at birth.

"This is essentially state-sponsored deadly violence against trans kids," said American Civil Liberties Union attorney Chase Strangio on Twitter. "This bill deliberately disregards clear science and medicine confirming that treating youth w/ gender dysphoria consistent with their affirmed gender saves their life. It tells providers to violate their oath. It tells trans kids they don't matter. And it tells me: see you in court."

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"The way this bill is written, it is only setting things up to cause harm to trans kids," adds Chase Glenn, executive director of the Alliance for Full Acceptance. "As long as trans kids are not able to receive the mental health counseling, their medications, or the treatment to alleviate their distress, it's harming people."

The recurring phrase throughout the bill reads: "gender reassignment medical treatment," the obscurity of which is the driving force behind much of the opposition. However, it's the explicit aspects of the bill that has Glenn concerned.

"You shouldn't just be able to delay treatment," Glenn concludes. "We are talking about kids who have an extremely high rate of suicide, so you are really playing with something that's not just about delaying care. It could potentially affect someone's overall mental emotional well-being, and that's the difference between someone feeling like they want to take their own life or not."

The S.C. bill comes at an already-critical time for the vulnerable LGBTQ community. In the past year, studies have begun to shine a light on the difficulties that LGBTQ patients experience in receiving routine medical care and at least four black trans South Carolina women have been killed since 2018.

"I think for a lot of trans folks in South Carolina to read something like that — it feels like a gross attack on the trans community," says Ivy Hill, the community health programs director for the Campaign for Southern Equality. "To particularly target youth like this is what makes it feel particularly gross to me. It's politicians thinking they know better than doctors do about our health and that they should be able to legislate our access to care."

Jones did not respond for requests for comment. Advocates also see a danger in situations where a doctor knows the medical course of action for a particular patient, but is prevented by law to pursue that treatment.

"I could only imagine what it would feel like, as a doctor, to be told they couldn't treat these kids or give them what they need," Glenn adds.

A small line clarifies that services like mental health counseling would not be under scrutiny, but there is no such note for medication. One of the most common medications given to trans children are hormone suppressants, which delay the onset of puberty, giving the child and their parents time to decide on more permanent solutions later on.

Looming over the clear health concerns is a much more nuanced idea.

"It's a complicated situation, so I get what they are trying to combat with this bill," Glenn explains. "But, as much as I hate to admit it ... any bill related to people in the transgender community, whether it's this bill or a bathroom bill, it is about appeasing a conservative base and throwing red meat to them during election season. That is using trans children as political pawns, and in my opinion, that is not OK."

While Glenn says he understands the bill's intent, others have different opinions.

"I think a lot of it comes from fear and not understanding that we are people too," Hill says. "We are your neighbors, your friends, your preachers, and your teachers, and there's nothing to be scared of here. A lot of it is based on a false narrative of who trans people are."

The CSE has worked with other organizations and groups to put together a directory of more than 400 Southern health service providers they have confirmed to be trans-friendly and trans-competent, called Trans in the South: A Guide to Resources and Services, that can be found at southernequality.org.


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