Rep. Neil Rafferty, the only out member of the Alabama legislature, spoke out passionately in the House chamber against the anti-transgender bills his colleagues passed Thursday, including one that criminalizes gender-affirming care for minors.
"I don't know how this became a platform issue for y'all," said Rafferty, a gay man and a Democrat. "I don't know where it became a central core issue to pick on these kids, to pick on these families. I don't know where it is or why y'all think that this is something that we need to vote on, not just vote on, but put [on] the top of the calendar like it's a priority."
"It's a priority for us to be getting involved in private family medical decisions that are made with a team of health care providers, that are made with the parents centering around the child who are surrounded by a team of health care providers, mental health professionals who are guiding them through this process?" he continued. "You want to think you're just going to a doc-in-a-box or willy-nilly, just getting prescribed this stuff because somebody just said, 'Hey, this is it.'"
"That's not how being gay, that's not how being transgender works," he explained. "Trust me, if I didn't have to be gay, I wouldn't be. You know how much easier my freaking life would be?" The health care bill is "invasive," he said, not an example of the small government that conservatives claim to support.
"It's hard enough growing up. ... It's even harder growing up being different," he went on. "And then have a state legislature, your elected officials, the leaders of the state, put a target on children's backs, put a target on the parents' backs, and once again get in the middle of their decisions and say, 'You don't know what's best.'"
He acknowledged that his were going to go ahead and advance the legislation, but he concluded, "Just don't you dare call me a friend after this."
\u201cLots of moments today in the Alabama Legislature. This is one of them.\u201d
Legislators gave final approval Thursday to the health care bill, which makes it a felony to provide gender-affirming care for minors, and sent it to Gov. Kay Ivey for her signature. It covers not only genital surgery, which doctors do not recommend for minors anyway, but also hormone treatment and puberty blockers. Health care providers who violate it could face up to 10 years in prison.
Alabama is so far the only state to criminalize such care. Arkansas legislators last year, overriding Gov. Asa Hutchinson's veto, passed a law banning these types of care for minors, but it would subject medical workers to professional discipline, not criminal penalties. It is temporarily blocked while a lawsuit against it proceeds. This year Idaho lawmakers considered a bill that would make it a felony to provide this care, with doctors facing up to life in prison for violation, but Republican leaders decided to withdraw it.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders, and the Human Rights Campaign, along with private law firms, have announced plans to file a suit if Ivey signs the Alabama bill into law. The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Alabama, Lambda Legal, Transgender Law Center, and Cooley LLP have vowed to file a suit as well.
Also Thursday, Alabama legislators approved a bill restricting trans students' restroom access in schools, with a "don't say gay or trans" amendment, barring teachers from offering instruction on gender and sexuality in grades K-5. Activists are urging Ivey, a Republican, to veto this and the health care bill.