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Anti-Trans Misinformation Spewed at Senate Hearing — But It Gets Countered

Anti-Trans Misinformation Spewed at Senate Hearing — But It Gets Countered

From left: Harleigh Walker, Riley Gaines, and Kelley Robinson

The hearing was on the realities of LGBTQ+ people in the U.S.

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on LGBTQ+ rights Wednesday, "Protecting Pride: Defending the Civil Rights of LGBTQ+ Americans," featured some dangerous misinformation about transgender people — although there were other witnesses to counter it.

Anti-trans witnesses included Riley Gaines, the former college swimmer who competed against trans athlete Lia Thomas in the 2022 NCAA Division I championship tournament, and Matt Sharp, senior counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal nonprofit. Countering them were Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson, pediatric endocrinologist Ximena Lopez, and trans teen Harleigh Walker.

Gaines, who swam for the University of Kentucky and now works for Independent Women’s Voice, a conservative group, talked about tying with Thomas, who swam for the University of Pennsylvania, for fifth place in the 200-meter freestyle at the tournament last year. “Having only one trophy, the NCAA handed it to Thomas and told me I had to go home empty-handed,” Gaines said. “And when I asked why, which was a question [NCAA officials] were not prepared to be asked … they said Thomas, it was crucial Thomas had it for picture purposes, Thomas had to have it for the pictures. I felt betrayed. I felt belittled, I felt reduced to a photo op.”

Gaines did receive her fifth-place trophy through the mail and was asked to pose with an alternative trophy for the photo. The NCAA has now implemented a policy that in the event of a tie, the older player will receive the trophy at the ceremony. If that policy would have been in place in 2022, Thomas still would have received the fifth-place trophy there, as she is slightly older than Gaines.

Gaines went on to say she and other cisgender women swimmers were “traumatized” by sharing a locker room with Thomas and predicted widespread dominance of women’s sports by trans women, whom she called “biological males.”

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a Republican member of the committee, thanked Gaines for her testimony and said, “Today’s Democrat Party has decided that women’s sports and girls’ sports no longer matters. And they’re willing to push radical legislation designed to destroy girls’ sports and women’s sports.”

Robinson, however, in answer to questioning from Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, pointed out that a very small number of trans girls and women are competing in female sports. Hirono noted that men’s sports receive much greater financial support than women’s, then said, “One of my colleagues who is very much opposed to transgender persons competing in female sports said if we allow transgender persons to compete and against females that we’re going to see coaches encouraging boys to become transgender to compete against girls. Ms. Robinson, is this what’s happening in sports?”

“No, it is not,” Robinson replied. “There is an incredible process that people have to go through to come out that can be painful. That’s about exposing yourself to your family, to your friends, in different ways. I can’t imagine someone enduring all of that simply to play a sport.”

Walker, a 16-year-old from Alabama, illustrated what trans youth face every day. “It definitely is a struggle day to day,” she said. “I’m growing up in a conservative state where there is a lot of misinformation spread about what trans people are, what we do. … Like I said in my testimony, I was severely bullied in middle school to the point where I had to drop out of public school, because there was so much hate every day in the hallways, being misgendered, being deadnamed, and it got to physical violence at a certain point. And so I had to drop out of public school for that year, and the school wasn’t doing anything about it.”

She has supportive parents and has received good health care, however. Alabama was one of the first states to ban gender-affirming care for minors, but its law has been temporarily blocked by a court while a suit against it proceeds. She made clear that her decision to come out as trans and go through medical procedures wasn’t undertaken lightly.

“Between 10 and 11, I told my parents that I believed I was transgender,” she said. “Nobody pushed me to become transgender. No one suggested forced or influenced me to choose to be trans, because it is not a choice. I knew that this was who I was.”

Her team of doctors focused on getting to know her and her parents and recommending the best health care for her specific case, she said. At no point did her doctors even mention genital surgery, which is not recommended for minors. “They never pushed any agenda,” she said. And if she changed her mind, her parents and doctors said they’d be fine with it and would support her no matter what.

Yet anti-trans legislators are “saying things like transgender people are being groomed by our parents, which is nonsense,” Walker said, adding that her state’s governor, Kay Ivey, “has decided to say horrible things about me and those like me.” While Walker is happy in high school now, she is looking at colleges in other states because of the anti-trans environment in Alabama.

Another trans youth's story was highlighted in a video shown by Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin at the beginning of the hearing. It showed Brandon Boulware, a father from Missouri, testifying before that state's legislature in March, as lawmakers were considering a bill barring trans students from participating in sports under their gender identity.

"I'm the father of four kids, two boys, two girls, including a wonderful, beautiful transgender daughter," Boulware said. "Today happens to be her birthday, and I chose to be here. I remember the day everything changed for me. I'd gotten home from work, and my daughter and her brother were in the front lawn. And she had sneaked on one of her older sister's play dresses, and they wanted to go across the street and play with the neighbors kids. It was time for dinner. I said come in. She asked, an she go across the street?' I said no. She asked me if she went inside and put on boy clothes, could she then go across the street and play, and it's then that it hit me that my daughter was equating being good with being someone else. My child was miserable. I cannot overstate that. She was absolutely miserable. And so on that day, my wife and I stopped silencing our child's spirit. I now have a confident, a smiling, a happy daughter. I came here today as a parent to share my story. I need you to understand that this language, if it becomes law, will have real effects on real people. It will affect my daughter it will mean she cannot play on the girls' volleyball team or dance squad or tennis team. Ask you please don't take that away from my daughter or the countless others like her who are out there. Let them have their childhoods. Let them be who they are."

But Missouri did eventually pass the anti-trans sports bill and one outlawing gender-affirming care for trans minors. Gov. Mike Parson signed them into law in June.

Sharp used some of his time to denounce gender-affirming care. “Perhaps the most troubling campaign is the push to give dangerous and potentially irreversible gender transition procedures to children,” he said. “Puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones put kids are a one-way street towards medical transition. They harm healthy bodies, turn children into lifelong patients of gender clinics, and irreparably deprive kids of the chance of becoming natural parents later in life.” Actually, the effects of puberty blockers are reversible once young people stop taking them, and most of the effects of hormone therapy are reversible.

Lopez, who practices in Texas, stood up for gender-affirming care. A “campaign of misinformation has falsely demonized health care for transgender adolescents, which is based on more than two decades of research and clinical practice,” she said. “And it’s accepted as established medical care by every leading medical organization in this country, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and many others.”

“Gender-affirming care does not involve genital surgery in minors, and no medical interventions are provided before the age of puberty,” she continued. “Gender-affirming care consists of puberty suppression after the onset of puberty, which then may be followed by hormone therapy in later adolescence.” This care is “medically necessary and lifesaving,” she said, “is not pushed by doctors or parents,” and the decision to undergo it is “highly complex” and involves consultation with mental health providers, Lopez noted.

But her state will outlaw the provision of this care for youth as of September 1, when a bill signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott this month goes into effect. And discrimination against trans people and LGBTQ+ people in general is already rampant.

“In Texas and in other states where bills banning gender-affirming care are being passed, the lives and future of transgender youth are at risk,” she said. “The parents of my patients are debating whether to flee their state. … The effects of the campaign of misinformation that led to these bills are also having chilling effects beyond health care access. My patients and their parents are suffering from discrimination at school or church, at social gatherings everywhere. Many families unable to leave the state are pulling their children out of school and isolating them, living in hiding.”

Robinson spoke out against the climate of fear in Texas and elsewhere, pointing out that it has no place in the U.S. and that HRC has declared a state of emergency for LGBTQ+ Americans. She called for passage of the Equality Act, which was reintroduced Wednesday, and noted that there is progress.

“For every extremist, there are many, many more Americans who support LGBTQ+ rights,” she said. “Our nation is greater than all this hate. And we must take action now to end this emergency and secure equality for every American without exception.”

Pictured, from left: Harleigh Walker, Riley Gaines, and Kelley Robinson

The full hearing is available in the video below.

WATCH LIVE: Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on LGBTQ+ rights as Pride Month

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