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Oklahoma Close to Criminalizing Gender-Affirming Care for Youth

Oklahoma Close to Criminalizing Gender-Affirming Care for Youth

Kay Floyd and Julie Daniels

The bill that's advancing would make it a felony to provide this care.

Oklahoma is moving toward banning and criminalizing gender-affirming care for minors, with the Senate Wednesday approving a bill to that effect, while a companion bill in the state’s House of Representatives advanced from a committee to the full House.

Senate Bill 613 passed by a vote of 40-8, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed, the Tulsa World reports. It would ban not only genital surgery, which is hardly ever performed on minors, but also other surgeries, hormone treatment, and puberty blockers.

Providing such care for the purpose of gender transition would be a felony carrying a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. Those who’ve had the treatment as a minor and regretted it could sue the health care provider up until the time the patient turns 45.

The companion legislation, House Bill 2177, is similar but would also ban the use of state funds for this care, no matter the patient’s age.

“We are going to protect children under the age of 18 from undergoing these very dangerous and in many times irreversible treatments that we know from reading and research can cause serious side effects and physical problems later in life,” Republican Sen. Julie Daniels, sponsor of her chamber’s version of the bill, said during the Senate debate, TV station KOKH reports.

Her statement is counter to the stances of the American Medical Association and other major health organizations, which have pronounced the treatments safe, effective, and in many cases lifesaving.

Republican Sen. Shane Jett essentially denied the existence of trans people. “There is no spectrum of choice,” he said, according to the World. “You are a boy. You are a girl.” Another Republican, Sen. David Bullard, said, “You cannot cure confusion with a knife.”

Democrats said the legislation would interfere with parents’ rights. “My main concern with this bill is very, very simple,” said Senate Minority Leader Kay Floyd. “This is an attack on parents’ rights. This is taking away from parents their right to make medical decisions for their child. You may not agree with that medical decision, and that is fine.”

Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, has indicated he supports the ban. He called for such a measure last year when he signed a bill into law that makes federal funds under the American Rescue Plan Act available to the University of Oklahoma Medical Center and its Children’s Hospital only if they cease providing gender-affirming medications or surgeries to people under 18. They did agree to end the treatments.

Civil rights groups condemned the proposed ban. “Gender-affirming care is a critical part of helping transgender adolescents succeed in school, establish healthy relationships with their friends and family, and live authentically as themselves,” Tamya Cox-Touré, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, said in a press release. “Restricting access to this care strips parents of their fundamental right to guide the health care of their children. There is no evidence that people are being pushed into care or receiving treatment without proper evaluation and informed consent. Psychologists, psychiatrists, family physicians, and specialists work together with individuals and their families to determine the treatment best for that young person. Gender-affirming care is lifesaving care, and the ACLU of Oklahoma and our partners are determined to fight these baseless laws at the Capitol or in the courts.” Freedom Oklahoma and Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes joined the ACLU in denouncing the legislation and promising legal action.

Human Rights Campaign State Legislative Director and Senior Counsel Cathryn Oakley released this statement: “SB 613 is among the most egregious efforts by extremist lawmakers in the country, which continues to demonstrate Oklahoma’s crusade against transgender youth and the people who support them. Every major medical association in the country supports gender affirming care. Gender affirming care is best practice care that is always delivered in an age-appropriate manner in consultation with and the consent of parents, pediatricians, and medical experts. The Oklahoma legislature has shown time and time again in recent years that it is not concerned with the well-being of transgender youth — it is committed to isolating, harming, and frightening them. This is one more such unconscionable attack by powerful adults on kids just trying to grow up healthy and well.

“What’s alarming is that we know this is just the beginning of their extremist agenda. Some senators in Oklahoma are already working on legislation to restrict what medical decisions adults can make for themselves. This is not and never has been about protecting young folks — it is now, as it has always been, about trying to make it harder for transgender people to be accepted and thrive. That’s why we urge the Oklahoma House to recognize the danger of this bill and reject it in its entirety.”

Added Troy Stevenson, director of state advocacy campaigns at the Trevor Project: “Going against the guidance of every major medical and mental health association, this bill brings the state one step closer toward stripping transgender and nonbinary young people of their right to receive best-practice medical care. Fifty-five percent of transgender and nonbinary youth in Oklahoma seriously considered suicide, and 20 percent made an attempt in the past year. Yet, research has found that transgender medical care is associated with positive mental health outcomes, including showing promise for reducing suicide risk. We urge lawmakers to work toward expanding access to this potentially lifesaving care — not restrict it further.”

The governors of South Dakota and Utah recently signed bans into law, and they are being considered in many other states. Idaho is advancing a bill that would, like the Oklahoma one, make it a felony to provide this care to minors. Florida medical boards have strengthened their prohibition on this treatment. Alabama and Arkansas had passed bans in 2022 and 2021 respectively, and both are blocked by courts while lawsuits proceed.

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