By Chris Boyette and Jack Forrest
(CNN) -- Minnesota's Democratic Gov. Tim Walz signed an executive order Wednesday directing state agencies to take action to protect and support access to gender-affirming health care across the state.
"All state agencies must, to the fullest extent of their lawful authority, pursue opportunities and coordinate with each other to protect people or entities providing, assisting, seeking or obtaining gender affirming health care services in Minnesota," the order says.
Gender-affirming care is medically necessary, evidence-based care that uses a multidisciplinary approach to help a person transition from their assigned gender -- the one the person was designated at birth -- to their affirmed gender -- the gender by which one wants to be known.
Walz's order comes as Republican-led states around the country push restrictions on such care, with at least four states this year having passed measures to outlaw gender-affirming care for minors. As part of the order, the governor is prohibiting the state from cooperating with investigations by states that aim to penalize such care, saying their actions "pose a grave threat to the health" of members of the LGBTQ community.
"We want every Minnesotan to grow up feeling safe, valued, protected, celebrated and free to exist as their authentic versions of themselves," Walz said at a press conference Wednesday.
"Protecting and supporting access to gender-affirming health care is essential to being a welcoming and supportive state to the community," the governor continued. "Minnesota is going to continue to be a refuge for people who seek to provide and to receive gender affirming health care services."
The order itself does not change any existing Minnesota law but instead requires state agencies to use their existing powers to protect gender-affirming care and study the health benefits of such care. The order also directs agencies to investigate health care organizations that may have denied individuals access to gender-affirming care.
LGBTQ advocacy group OutFront Minnesota on Wednesday applauded what it called the "Trans Refuge" order, saying that "with the rights of our neighbors under threat this order sends a strong message to trans people, supportive families, and care providers—you are welcome here."
The order comes after lawmakers in Tennessee, Mississippi, Utah and South Dakota have enacted legislation to restrict access to treatments for minors over the past month. Arkansas enacted a ban in 2021, and Alabama put one on its books last year. Arizona also enacted restrictions on gender-affirming care in 2022, though its ban was less sweeping than the others.
Walz in his speech called out those states, saying, "By outlawing gender affirming health care, states across this country are working to prevent people from receiving safe, medically necessary, evidence-based treatments. We know this urgency is real, thus the need of an executive order today."
Though gender-affirming care is highly individualized, some children may decide to use reversible puberty suppression therapy. This part of the process may also include hormone therapy that can lead to gender-affirming physical change. Surgical interventions, however, are not typically done on children and many health care providers do not offer them to minors.
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