Rainbow Rant: Republican lawmakers aim to criminalize transgender health care

Joy Ellison
Rep. Ron Hood, a Republican from Ashville, is co-sponsoring a bill that could charge doctors with a criminal offense for prescribing gender-identity medical treatments.

On Feb. 19, Republican lawmakers Bill Dean and Rob Hood introduced a bill to the Ohio legislature with a misleading name: The Vulnerable Child Protection Act (HB 513). This piece of legislation, if passed, would criminalize health care professionals who provide medical care to transgender children.

Dean and Hood’s proposal would make it a third-degree felony or misdemeanor to prescribe hormone-related medications, including puberty blockers, or other gender transition related procedures. Doctors could face up to five years in prison, a $10,000 fine and the loss of their medical license.

But Dean and Hood’s bill doesn’t stop there. It would also restrict the ability of mental health professionals to care for their queer and transgender patients. The bill would make it illegal to “purposefully attempt to change, reinforce, or affirm a minor’s perception of the minor’s own sexual attraction or sexual behaviors, or attempt to change, reinforce, or affirm a minor’s gender identity when that identity is inconsistent with the minor’s biological sex.”

It’s the word “affirm” that terrifies me. It is affirmation that transgender people, especially children, desperately need. This bill, however, would make it illegal for counselors tell trans children that they believe and respect their own understandings of their genders. It would criminalize health care providers using a child’s chosen pronouns and name. Queer young people would also be unable to find accepting and supportive mental health services.

According to the Trevor Project, LGBTQ youth who reported having at least one accepting adult in their lives were 40 percent less likely to attempt suicide. Therefore, in my estimation, it’s not an exaggeration to believe that the so-called Vulnerable Child Protection Act would endanger the lives of transgender and queer young people.

Soon HB 513 will not be only the anti-trans law under consideration in Ohio. Republican state Rep. Jena Powell announced her intention to co-sponsor a bill that would ban transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports.

In fact, anti-trans laws targeting children have been introduced in nine different states, according to Chase Strangio of the ACLU. Political scientist Zein Murib points out that these laws represent a pivot in conservative strategy. Having lost the battle against same-sex marriage and with North Carolina repealing its anti-trans bathroom laws, they’ve shifted targets to transgender children.

Parents of transgender children have pointed out that HB 513 would take decision-making power out of the hands of families and doctors and place control into the hands of lawmakers. Doctors have pointed out that leading professional organizations, like the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend gender affirming care for transgender children. These are important arguments, but I want to make an additional one.

Cisgender adults feel a right to debate and control the medical decisions of transgender young people. In that debate, the voices of transgender adults are usually drowned out. As a transgender adult, I want to say that we — transgender people — are the only experts on our own genders.

We deserve the right to control our own bodies and to receive the health care that we need based on an informed consent model. Children need guidance and affirmation of their own experiences when making decisions about their bodies and medical care. That care should be rooted in the principle of bodily autonomy and informed by the knowledge that there is nothing wrong with being transgender.

Right-wing politicians are advancing their own agendas at the expense of queer and trans children. Adults who care about transgender young people need to organize against those that would play politics with their lives.