The Alabama Senate Tuesday approved a bill that would ban gender-affirming health care for transgender minors amid protests against the measure at the state capitol in Montgomery.
Senate Bill 10, dubbed the Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act, passed by a vote of 23-4, the Montgomery Advertiser reports. A companion bill is under consideration in the state's House of Representatives. Similar pieces of legislation have been proposed in several other states over the past few years, but not one has become law.
The Alabama bill would bar medical professionals from administering hormones or puberty blockers to anyone under the age of 19, in addition to prohibiting gender-affirming surgeries for this age group. Doctors could face prison time for violations.
Several people testified that genital surgeries are not performed on minors, in keeping with widely accepted medical standards. Others testified that drug treatments greatly improve the lives of young trans people, but lawmakers were not swayed.
"For some it means life or death," said high school sophomore Phineas Fleming Smith, a transgender boy who joined in protests at the capitol. The American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, the Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund, AIDS Alabama, and other groups organized the protests.
Protesters also stressed that gender-affirmation procedures are not undertaken lightly. "The things they are suggesting happen do not happen," Chris White, the mother of a trans daughter, told AL.com, a website for several Alabama newspapers. "It's absurd. And it's not based in fact. Children under 19 do not get surgery on the genitals like they are suggesting in the bill. It does not happen.
"And while the hormone treatments and blockers do happen, they are done under careful medical guidance with specialists and psychiatric care to make sure the children are well-rounded, getting all the help they need. It's not done just casually."
The bill would also mandate if a young person experiencing gender dysphoria speaks to a school counselor about the matter, the counselor must report that to the youth's parents, something many opponents of the measure found objectionable.
"It's effectively endangering many possible lifelines for a transgender child," Allison Scott, director of impact and innovation for the Campaign for Southern Equality, said in a statement. "Under this bill they can't go to their doctor for help, and they can't seek counsel or comfort from their teachers or school staff. If their parents reject them for their gender identity, where are they supposed to go?"
Some others pointed out that if parents support gender-affirming care for their child, this legislation would override the parents' decision. "We as a state now are about to infringe on that family decision to do that," said Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, a Democrat, according to the Advertiser.
But the bill's sponsor, Republican Sen. Shay Shelnutt, said people may change their minds about gender transition as they age. "I don't think the same way I did at 14 when I was 25," he said during debate. "You know the male brain -- I don't know when it fully matures, but you know, the human brain is not fully mature, and you know they are going to think differently."
Another anti-trans bill is pending in Alabama -- one that would bar trans student athletes from competing in sports designated for the gender with which they identify. The House was scheduled to vote on it Tuesday afternoon or evening. Protesters rallied against that legislation as well.
Several civil rights groups denounced the Senate's vote on the health care bill.
"This bill is harmful for several reasons," said a statement from Scott McCoy, interim deputy director, LGBTQ rights and special litigation, at the Southern Poverty Law Center. "First, it would remove control of vital health care decisions from transgender youth, their families and their doctors and inserts government where it doesn't belong. Second, it would expose medical professionals who treat transgender youth to criminal sanctions. Third, it would put educators and school personnel in a legal and ethical conflict by requiring them to out transgender students to hostile parents."
"This legislation will endanger young trans lives in Alabama," said a statement from Sam Brinton, vice president of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project, which provides suicide prevention and crisis intervention services to LGBTQ+ youth. "It contradicts the consensus of major medical associations and the overwhelming evidence that demonstrates how affirming transgender and nonbinary youth in their identities reduces suicide risk and improves health. There's absolutely no 'compassion' in threatening doctors with imprisonment for providing trans youth with the best-practice care they need to survive and thrive. And there's no 'fairness' in sidelining a group of young people who already face significantly increased risk for rejection, bullying, and suicide."
The National Center for Lesbian Rights and ACLU lawyer Chase Strangio both tweeted against the bill.