Montana bans gender-affirming care for trans youth after protests and sanction against trans lawmaker

Montana lawmakers are proposing harsh new rule concerning medical care and legal protections for transgender people (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Montana’s Republican governor Greg Gianforte signed legislation on Thursday banning gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth.

Civil rights and medical advocates criticised the bill, saying it flies in the face of accepted medical practices and harms vulnerable young people.

“Governor Gianforte is an extremist, and the last thing he cares about is the well-being of transgender kids,” Human Rights Campaign’s state legislative director and senior counsel Cathryn Oakley said in a statement shared with The Independent.

“The care he and the legislature have forbidden today is age-appropriate, best practice care supported by the entire American medical establishment – care that helps children grow into their full potential,” she added. “This bill prevents certain kids from getting potentially life-saving health care simply because those kids are transgender – and that’s discrimination. Montana families deserve so much better.”

The Montana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics has described the legislation as “an overly broad blanket ban that takes decisions that should be made by families and physicians and puts them in the hands of politicians.”

The law, which prohibits state employees and property from being part of such care, and contains punishments ranging from medical license suspension to stripped legal and insurance protections for providers, takes effect on 1 October.

Medical providers reminded Montanans that gender-affirming care remains legal until the bill is implemented.

“My bottom line to families is that this care remains legal,” Dr Kathryn Lowe, a Bozeman pediatrician and member of the Montana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told the Montana Free Press. “To all the families who are panicking, who are moving, who are listing their houses to sell … we have great hope that [SB 99] will never take effect.”

Senator John Fuller, a Republican representing Whitefish, said in a statement he was glad the bill passed and described the legislation as “supporting the health and safety of Montana’s children.”

The legislation, Senate Bill 99, has the been the subject of impassioned protests at the state capitol.

On Wednesday, conservative lawmakers voted to bar Democratic lawmaker Zooey Zephyr, who is transgender, from debating and casting votes in person at the state House of Representatives for the rest of the session after she fiercely criticised the bill and told her colleagues passing it meant they had “blood on their hands.”

Earlier in the week, seven people were arrested by riot police when peaceful protesters in the House gallery chanted in support of Rep Zephyr, who was denied the right to speak in the legislature for days before ultimately being removed.

Advocacy groups including Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Montana have said they will challenge SB 99 in court, according to the Associated Press.

At least 15 states have now enacted laws or policies banning gender-affirming care for young trans people, and more than a dozen others are considering similar measures. Court injunctions have blocked bans from going into effect in three states.

The US Department of Justice has also intervened in legal challenges to gender-affirming care bans in Alabama and Tennessee.

“The right to consider your health and medically-approved treatment options with your family and doctors is a right that everyone should have, including transgender children, who are especially vulnerable to serious risks of depression, anxiety and suicide,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement on 26 April.

More than half of all trans youth in the US between the ages of 13 and 17 are at risk of losing access to age-appropriate and medically necessary gender-affirming healthcare in their home state, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

The onslaught of legislation and volatile political debate surrounding the bills has also negatively impacted the mental health of an overwhelming majority of young trans and nonbinary people, according to recent polling from The Trevor Project and Morning Consult.

A separate survey from The Trevor Project found that 45 per cent of trans and nonbinary youth have seriously considered attempting suicide over the last year.

The results of a wide-ranging survey from The Washington Post and KFF found that a vast majority of trans Americans are satisfied with their lives after transitioning.