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Idaho Seeks Life in Prison for Providing Gender-Affirming Health Care

Bruce Skaug and Wes Allen

That's in a bill making it through the Idaho legislature, while Alabama is considering a punishment of 10 years in prison.


From left: Rep. Bruce Skaug, sponsor of the Idaho bill, and Rep. Wes Allen, the sponsor in Alabama

Idaho and Alabama are both advancing bills that would make it a felony to provide gender-confirmation procedures to minors, with Idaho's carrying a sentence of up to life in prison.

The Idaho House of Representatives Tuesday approved House Bill 675, which would add these procedures to existing state law banning female genital mutilation. It would make it a felony to prescribe hormones or puberty blockers to a young person, or to perform gender-affirmation surgery; the latter is not generally performed on minors anyway. A House committee had OK'd the bill Friday and sent it to the full body. It now goes to the state's Senate. The full House vote was largely along party lines, with only one Republican voting against it, the Idaho Statesman reports.

Its sponsor, Republican Rep. Bruce Skaug, contends such treatment causes medical problems and that young people aren't mature enough to make decisions about gender confirmation. "If we do not allow minors to get a tattoo, drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, sign a legal contract, why would we allow them to go through these physical mutilations because of their feelings at the time," he said, according to Boise State Public Radio.

Trans youth and their allies have pointed out that these procedures are lifesaving. "By voting yes on House Bill 675, you are voting to kill me and other kids just like me," Eve Devitt, a 16-year-old trans girl who had suicidal thoughts before beginning treatment, testified during debate on the bill last week.

Trans man Calvin Udall, who began his medical transition at age 15 and is now a college student, made similar comments. "The years before I was given access to gender-affirming health care were the worst years of my life," he told legislators, as the public radio service reports.

Rep. John Gannon, a Democrat who opposed the bill, pointed out that major medical and mental health organizations support gender-affirming care for young people. "I don't think the government has the right to hurt people, but I don't think it has the right to deprive people of medical treatment," he told his colleagues, according to the Idaho Capital Sun.

LGBTQ+ rights groups have spoken out against the legislation. "Amid a wave of dangerous bills targeting transgender youth, this bill is among the most dangerous -- forcing doctors to choose between providing best-practice care to their patients and facing felony charges," Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project, said in a press release. "This bill is at odds with the professional guidance of every major medical and mental health association in the country. Our research shows that access to gender-affirming care is strongly associated with lower risk of depression and suicide among trans and nonbinary youth who seek it. We urge Idaho lawmakers to support this group of already marginalized young people by increasing access to care that can save lives -- not throwing doctors in prison for providing it."

"It is so disappointing that some politicians in Boise have decided to follow Texas and Alabama down the path of imposing felony criminal penalties upon doctors who are simply doing their jobs," Human Rights Campaign State Legislative Director and Senior Counsel Cathryn Oakley said Tuesday in a press release. "By making it impossible for doctors to provide care for their patients, transgender youth are denied the age-appropriate, best-practice, medically necessary, gender-affirming care that a new study just found reduces the risk of moderate or severe depression by 60 percent and suicidality by 73 percent.

"Every kid in Idaho deserves the chance to grow up feeling safe and respected for who they are. Denying someone medicallyvnecessary health care simply because you don't approve of who they are is textbook discrimination. Decisions about what kind of care is appropriate for young people should be left up to the young person and their parents, in consultation with health care professionals, not by politicians looking to score political points at the expense of the well-being of transgender youth. It's critical that the Senate listens to medical professionals, parents, and kids and refuse to entertain this flagrantly discriminatory legislation any further."

"Bills like HB 675 are being pushed across the country by well-funded, national, anti-trans groups to mobilize their political base," added Chase Strangio, the American Civil Liberties Union's deputy director for transgender justice. "These bills do nothing to invest and protect Idaho youth and families, and Idahoans deserve better."

The Alabama legislation would also make it a felony to provide gender-affirming care to minors, including hormones, puberty blockers, and surgery, with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. It has already passed the Senate and last week was approved by the House Judiciary Committee, so the full House will now consider it, the Associated Press reports.

"It is not good to give these medications to these children, and I consider it to where it would be abuse to give these long-term drugs to these children," asserted Republican Rep. Wes Allen, the House sponsor, according to the AP. He ignores the fact that the effects of hormones and puberty blockers are reversible.

The "abuse" argument is making news these days, as Texas's governor and attorney general claim that parents who allow their children to receive gender-affirming care are engaging in child abuse. Gov. Greg Abbott recently directed state authorities to investigate parents in these cases, an order that has been blocked by a court in the case of one family under investigation and may be blocked more widely.

As in Idaho, LGBTQ+ activists and allies are speaking out against the legislation in Alabama. "We're not supposed to be here substituting our judgment for the person that's closest to that child, and I personally believe that this legislation doesn't protect children, it endangers them, and it also endangers their families," Democratic Rep. Chris England said, according to the AP.

Arkansas is the only state that so far has approved a ban on gender-affirming care for youth, with lawmakers overriding Gov. Asa Hutchinson's veto last year, but the law is blocked while a court challenge proceeds. It does not provide for prison sentences for health care workers but instead makes them subject to discipline by licensing boards and says violation is grounds for lawsuits.

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Trudy Ring

Trudy Ring, The Advocate's copy chief, has spent much of her journalistic career covering the LGBT movement. When she's not fielding questions about grammar, spelling, and LGBT history, she's sharing movie trivia or classic rock lyrics.
Trudy Ring, The Advocate's copy chief, has spent much of her journalistic career covering the LGBT movement. When she's not fielding questions about grammar, spelling, and LGBT history, she's sharing movie trivia or classic rock lyrics.