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Tennessee Close to Banning Gender-Affirming Care for Youth

Tennessee Close to Banning Gender-Affirming Care for Youth

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee

Legislators have passed a bill and sent it to Gov. Bill Lee (pictured), and they're also moving toward restrictions on drag shows.

Tennessee legislators have passed a bill banning gender-affirming care for minors, sending it to Republican Gov. Bill Lee for his signature.

Lawmakers have also advanced legislation restricting drag shows, and it needs one more procedural vote in the Senate before it goes to Lee.

The bill on gender-affirming care, House Bill 1, was approved by both the House and Senate Thursday. It would ban surgery, puberty blockers, and hormone treatment for the purpose of gender transition for people under 18. Even if Lee, who has signaled support for the bill, doesn’t sign it within 10 days (excluding Sundays), it will become law without his signature, The Tennessean reports.

“These treatments and procedures have a lifetime of negative consequences that are irreversible,” said its sponsor, Republican Rep. William Lamberth, according to the paper.

He has called these treatments experimental, but in fact they are endorsed by the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and other major medical groups. Genital surgery is almost never performed on minors.

Democrats had denounced the bill and pointed out that minors can obtain a variety of cosmetic surgeries; they tried unsuccessfully to put a ban on those procedures into the legislation. The bill “has nothing to do with protecting children from unnecessary medical procedures,” Democratic Rep. Bo Mitchell said. “[Some children] can get their breast enhancements, their nose jobs, that’s OK, but these children can’t have any medical procedures?”

The bill originally contained a provision that would define it as abuse or neglect if parents let their children go through gender transition, but that was deleted as it moved through committees.

If the measure becomes law, it will take effect this summer. Minors currently receiving treatment will have until March 31, 2024, to end it.

The American Civil Liberties Union’s Tennessee affiliate has promised to sue if it becomes law. “All Tennesseans should have access to the health care they need to survive and thrive,” said a statement from Lucas Cameron-Vaughn, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Tennessee. “Gender-affirming health care for trans youth is safe, necessary, effective, and often lifesaving. Legislators are risking trans young people’s health, well-being, and safety with this dangerous legislation. We urge Governor Lee to veto this overreaching, discriminatory bill, or we will see him in court.”

Human Rights Campaign State Legislative Director and Senior Counsel Cathryn Oakley also issued a statement against the bill, saying, “This attempt by radical politicians in Tennessee to ban gender-affirming care is only the latest effort in their war against the LGBTQ+ community, especially against transgender kids. This is one of two discriminatory bills making its way toward Governor Lee’s desk this week alone, alongside a bill that would ban drag performances. The state has not only introduced more anti-LGBTQ+ legislation than any other state in this country, but attacks on the fundamental rights of thousands of LGBTQ+ people in Tennessee have been unrelenting for nearly a decade. These extremist lawmakers have intentionally made life harder and more dangerous for trans kids. Gender affirming care is age-appropriate, lifesaving, medically necessary care that is only provided after the consent of parents and doctors. We urge Governor Lee not to sign this harmful bill into law.”

The Trevor Project spoke out as well. “Decisions about transgender medical care should be made between trans patients, their doctors, and their families. Politicians have no business deciding these personal matters by enforcing blanket bans that defy professional guidance from every major medical and mental health association in the country,” said Kasey Suffredini, vice president of advocacy and government affairs, in a press release. “We urge the governor to reject this harmful bill and, instead, work to expand access to best-practice medical care for young people across Tennessee.”

The anti-drag show legislation, House Bill 9, “classifies ‘male and female impersonators’ as adult cabaret performers and bans ‘adult-oriented performances that are harmful to minors,’ as defined in Tennessee’s obscenity law,” The Tennessean reports.

The House Thursday passed a version of the bill that differed slightly from the one already adopted by the Senate, so it will go back to the Senate for one more vote. Once the Senate OK’s that version, the bill, like the one on gender-affirming care, will become law even if Lee doesn’t sign it within 10 days, not counting Sundays.

Supporters of the measure said it will only affect drag performances that meet the definition of obscenity under state law and U.S. Supreme Court rulings. But its sponsor, Republican Rep. Chris Todd, introduced the bill after calling a Pride drag show “child abuse,” even though he admitted he didn’t know anything about the show’s content, The Tennessean notes.

Democratic Rep. Gloria Johnson said the bill is unnecessary. “If you’re being obscene in front of children, it is already illegal, correct? If you’re wearing lederhosen and being obscene in front of children, you’ll be arrested, correct?” she said, according to the paper.

The HRC denounced this bill as well. “By passing House Bill 9, the Tennessee legislature has done nothing but spread hate, misinformation, and extremism,” said a statement from HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “Drag is a long-standing, celebratory form of entertainment and a meaningful source of employment for many across the state. Yet, rather than focus on actual policy issues facing Tennesseans, politicians would rather spend their time and effort misconstruing age-appropriate performances at a library to pass as many anti-LGBTQ+ bills as they can. Dangerous rhetoric like this has real consequences — prejudiced inspired bills only rile up an extremist base and normalize violence against the LGBTQ+ community, especially transgender and nonbinary people. We urge Governor Lee to veto this discriminatory bill.”

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