Bill banning puberty blockers, hormone treatments for trans kids sent to Texas governor

Thursday, May 18, 2023
TX bill banning gender-affirming care for trans kids sent to governor
SB 14, the Texas bill banning gender-affirming care for transgender children is heading to Gov. Greg Abbott's desk.

AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas is on the brink of banning transgender minors from getting puberty blockers and hormone therapies, treatments that leading medical groups say are important to supporting their mental health.

The Senate voted 19-12 Wednesday to accept Senate Bill 14's House version and send it to Gov. Greg Abbott's desk, two days after the lower chamber passed the legislation.

The bill is a legislative priority for the Republican Party of Texas, which opposes any efforts to validate transgender identities. It's also a key proposal among a slate of GOP bills that would restrict the rights and representation of LGBTQ Texans this session, amid a growing acceptance of Christian nationalism on the right.

Authored by New Braunfels Republican Sen. Donna Campbell, SB 14 would prohibit trans-Texans under the age of 18 from accessing transition-related medical treatments, including puberty blockers, hormone therapies and surgeries - though surgeries are rarely performed on kids.

The bill would also require trans youth who are already getting this care to be "weaned off" in a "medically appropriate" manner. This is slightly out of step with the abrupt cutoff mandated by the version the Senate approved last month, but the upper chamber has chosen not to ask for a conference committee to iron out the difference.

In pushing for SB 14, Campbell and other backers have disputed the research and science behind transition-related care. They also say the legislation is an effort to save Texas families from health care providers who are taking advantage of a "social contagion" and pushing life-altering treatments on kids who may later regret taking them.

"We are the Legislature - our job is to protect people," Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, said. "We protect children against lots of things. We don't let them smoke. We don't let them drink. We don't let them buy lottery cards. ... And so we are doing the right thing."

Medical groups, trans Texans and their families, however, say this care is vital to trans youths' mental health. Treatments are also not rushed, they say. Instead, it's a time-intensive process to access this care, including multiple required medical evaluations.

They have also warned that the House version's proposed tapering off process is still likely to bring physical discomfort and psychological distress to a group that is already more likely to be at risk of depression and suicide than their cisgender peers. Some have also called it forced detransitioning.

"That would push me past my breaking point," Randell, a 16-year-old trans boy from North Texas who has been on hormone therapies for the past few years, said. He agreed to speak with The Texas Tribune if only his full name isn't used to protect his safety.

If Abbott supports SB 14 becoming law, the proposed ban would take effect on Sept. 1. His office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. Though in 2022, the governor had ordered the state's child welfare agency to investigate parents, who provided their trans kids access to transition-related care, for child abuse.

Pending his support, Texas - home to one of the largest trans communities in the country, including around 30,000 teens between the ages of 13 and 17 - would become one of over a dozen states that restrict transition-related care for trans minors. The American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and other advocacy groups for LGBTQ rights have sued several of them.

"This legislation is vicious, it's cruel, and it's blatantly unconstitutional," Ash Hall, policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas, said following the first House vote. "The bigotry and discrimination in this bill will not stand up in court, and it will not stand the test of time."

And already, the prospect of losing access to these treatments has prompted many parents of trans kids - including Randell's - to consider traveling out of state for care or flee Texas altogether, costly options that are not available to all. Others have also spoken publicly about not wanting to abandon the community that they love or that their families have been in for generations.

"We're not going to be able to know how many children will be 'saved,' as it's been called, from this lifestyle, but we will definitely be able to track what harm it may cause," said Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, on Wednesday. "It is my hope that every child affected by this bill can have a chance to grow up and see that things will get better."

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