In South Dakota, we’re witnessing an alarming historical precedent: the first test of conservative legislation designed to block access to transition-related medical care, particularly puberty blockers, to trans kids and teens by criminalizing doctors who provide it to them. The bill passed its first vote on the 22nd, and is facing further votes in the South Dakota State House to determine whether it will advance.
Several years ago, we saw a wave of “bathroom bills” that intended to introduce intense scrutiny around trans people using public accommodations like restrooms, locker rooms and other gender-segregated spaces. Often, these bills and the rhetoric around them invoked ideas of vulnerable third parties — usually white cis women and/or children — who might be ‘endangered’ by trans people in public spaces, who were gestured at by the idea of “a man in a woman’s restroom.” Regardless of the legislative success of these ventures — and sometimes they were successful! — the debate around these bills helped popularize and cement the idea of trans people, and especially transfeminine people, as dangerous and predatory, somehow posing a threat to cis women in public spaces just by entering them.
Now we may be seeing the beginning of a similar wave of legislation, now targeting trans kids and teens, and likely inspired by reactionary anti-trans rhetoric about ‘protecting children’ from parents and doctors who want to force or convince cis kids that they’re trans. After years of TERF discourse about parents confusing tomboys for trans kids and mainstream writing like Jesse Singal’s that uses progressive language to call for doubt around trans kids’ self-identification, it appears that legislators like South Dakota’s Fred Deutsch are listening.
“Representative Fred Deutsch, who introduced the bill, said he got the idea when he was surfing the internet last year. He said he had heard about people in other states who regretted transitioning from one gender to another, and wondered whether such treatments were offered in his state.
‘I Googled ‘transgender medicine South Dakota’ and I found a handful of doctors, not many, that do the procedures,” said Mr. Deutsch, who also introduced the bathroom bill in 2016. “And that’s the genesis of the concept of this bill.'”
The bill’s development and content was also created with the input of explicitly anti-trans right-wing organizations like the Kelsey Coalition, who Deutsch consulted with along with the Alliance Defending Freedom and Liberty Counsel. Media Matters describes the Kelsey Foundation as “a group of medical professionals, parents, and others who reject the identities of trans youth and advocate against affirming care,” with ties to the Heritage Foundation. The Kelsey Coalition’s resources for parents and lobbying stances are consistently in contradiction with medical best practices, which confirm that a gender-affirming care model leads to positive outcomes for trans youth.
If the bill, HR 1057, were to pass, it would become a misdemeanor punishable by a year in prison or a maximum fine of $2000 for doctors to provide any treatment “done to cause the minor to feel or appear as the opposite sex” to patients under 16, even with parental approval. Similar bills are now being floated in states like Georgia, Kentucky and Texas, creating the looming possibility that even kids with supportive parents actively advocating for them won’t be able to get the medical care they need.
Ironically — or perhaps not! — just this week we saw the results of a major study in Pediatrics finding that “if [trans kids and teens] have access to a puberty blocker, their chances of suicide and mental health problems in the immediate term and down the road decline significantly,” and that “those who underwent the puberty-blocking treatment had lower odds of lifetime suicidal ideation… compared to those who wanted the treatment but did not receive it.”
The future of HR 1057 is unclear; even if subsequent votes on the bill lead it to pass, it will ultimately be up to South Dakota’s governor to decide whether to sign them into law — Governor Kristi Noem hasn’t made a statement on whether she would be willing to sign HR 1057 into law or veto it, but she has said that she would have approved the anti-trans bathroom bill that her predecessor vetoed. It’s likely that even if the South Dakota bill fails, similar bills will gain traction in nearby states, and it will be up to their constituencies to make it clear to those legislators that they won’t stand for targeting of trans youth.