Karine Jean-Pierre
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Alabama Is Steps Away From Making Gender-Affirming Care a Felony

Alabama Senator Shay Shelnutt and Senator Gerald Allen

Alabama’s proposed Vulnerable Child Protection Act would make gender-affirming treatment for transgender youth under age 18 a felony. Senate Bill 184 would punish violators with up to 10 years in prison and is set to be debated in the state House this week.

The bill, sponsored by Republican state Sens. Shay Shelnutt and Gerald Allen, would also require school personnel including teachers, administrators, and counselors to report information about a student’s gender identity to their parents.

Last Thursday, lawmakers in the Alabama Senate approved the bill by a lopsided majority of 24-6. If it passes in the House, as expected, it will then go to Gov. Kay Ivey for her signature. It is only the latest of this type of legislation making its way into law across the country — Idaho is seeking to sanction such care with life in prison.

Kathie Moehlig, the executive director of Trans Family Support Services in Huntsville, told Alabama television station WHNT that the bill would be devastating for trans youth.

“To have your rights taken away for medically necessary care that doctors and professionals agree is necessary and your family is in alignment that this is important care for my child and their life and wellbeing,” she said. “It’s devastating to think that a politician can take that away from us in this country.

“It’s putting a tremendous pressure on teachers and other professionals to get involved in matters that are family matters, that are matters between families and doctors,” Moehlig continued. “Our teachers have their hands full teaching and they should be allowed to teach freely without having these extra pieces put on top of them.”

Trans Family Support Services Program Manager Mani Blunt said the best way to protect trans kids is to improve access to mental health resources.

"Support is suicide prevention,” Blunt said. “The suicide rate is elevated for transgender youth.”

The Human Rights Campaign, in response to the passage of the bill last week in the Alabama House, condemned the legislation: “This bill is an outrageous violation of privacy. If passed into law, Alabama would become only the second state in the country to have passed a ban on transgender youth being able to access affirming care. The first was Arkansas, which passed such a law last year over the Governor’s veto and then was immediately enjoined in federal court.”

The American Medical Association has also weighed in on its opposition to the bill. In a statement released last year, the AMA addressed legislatures in over 20 states who were proposing banning physicians and other health care professionals from providing medical treatment for gender-affirming care to transgender youth.

“The AMA opposes the dangerous intrusion of government into the practice of medicine and the criminalization of health care decision-making,” said AMA Board MemberMichael Suk, MD, JD, MPH, MBA. “Gender-affirming care is medically necessary, evidence-based care that improves the physical and mental health of transgender and gender-diverse people.”

Alabama has a poor record regarding LGBTQ+ rights. The state has laws permitting discrimination in adoption and foster placement, has criminalization laws around HIV, and other anti-equality measures.

In an op-ed for Alabama news site AL.com, Natalie Fox, a nurse practitioner and LGBTQ liaison for the city of Mobile, warned of the dangers of passing SB 184: “It will set a precedent that doctors, patients, and patients’ parents don’t get the final word on personal matters of health care. It will bar us from using evidence-based practice to improve (and sometimes, save) the lives of trans minors. And it will further stigmatize an already-vulnerable population. The reality is, trans kids will continue to exist whether we recognize them or not. This bill will only make their existence exceptionally more difficult.”

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