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Lawmakers target treatments for trans youths

Because attacks against transgender kids are increasing across the country, Minneasotans hold a rally at the capitol to support trans kids.
UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Because attacks against transgender kids are increasing across the country, Minneasotans hold a rally at the capitol to support trans kids.

Two House Republicans filed a proposal Friday that would make it illegal for doctors to provide treatments such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy to transgender minors.

Also, a Senate Republican filed a bill that similarly seeks to prevent such treatments.

The bills (HB 1421 and SB 254), filed by House Health & Human Services Chairman Randy Fine, R-Brevard County, Rep. Ralph Massullo, R-Lecanto, and Sen. Clay Yarborough, R-Jacksonville, are the latest in a series of moves by lawmakers and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration aimed at transgender people.

The Florida Board of Medicine and the Florida Board of Osteopathic Medicine last month moved forward with rules that would prevent doctors from providing such treatments to minors.

But the bills would go further by placing a prohibition in state law. The House version would require that doctors lose their licenses if they commit violations, while the Senate bill could lead to criminal charges for a person who "willfully or actively participates in a violation."

The House bill also would make changes including preventing health insurers and HMOs from providing coverage for treatments such as puberty blockers, hormone therapy, and gender-affirming surgery, and would largely block people from changing the sex listed on their birth certificates. Both bills would bar state agencies and local governments from spending money on such treatments.

The bills, which were filed as lawmakers prepare to start the annual legislative session Tuesday, will add fuel to debates that have repeatedly flared in Florida and numerous other Republican-controlled states about treatment for gender dysphoria. The federal government defines gender dysphoria clinically as “significant distress that a person may feel when sex or gender assigned at birth is not the same as their identity.”

“Parents have the right to raise their children as they see fit, and government intervention should be a last resort," Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, said in a prepared statement Friday. "Unfortunately, all too often we are hearing about treatments for gender dysphoria being administered to children, often very young children. That’s just wrong, and we need to step in and make sure it isn’t happening in our state.”

But the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida issued a news release about the House bill that said it would "strip families of their medical freedom, put government in control of insurance coverage decisions, and codify a ban on transgender people being legally recognized as themselves."

"Transgender people are neighbors, friends, family members," Nikole Parker, Equality Florida director of transgender equality, said in a prepared statement. "We exist and we matter. This bill to rip away lifesaving health care, shred insurance coverage and bar birth certificate access will cost lives."

Fine’s committee last month held a panel discussion that included doctors, researchers, and other people opposed to gender-affirming care for transgender minors. At the time, Fine indicated he would file legislation on the issue. Massullo, meanwhile, is a dermatologist.

“I will tell you this. I say these panels are often a predicate for what’s to come. That’s exactly what today was. And I promise you, you will like the bill,” Fine said at the end of the Feb. 21 meeting.

Equality Florida described the speakers at the committee as a “sham panel.” It also accused DeSantis of using the issue “in his quest to build a right-wing presidential resume.”

“This one-sided discussion, which relied on fringe speakers from social media and from outside of Florida and the U.S., does not change the broad scientific consensus from our nation’s leading medical associations — that gender-affirming care improves health outcomes and saves lives,” Parker said in a statement after the meeting.

DeSantis, who is widely seen as a top contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, has elevated the issue of treatment for transgender youths. As an example, he has referred to surgeries on transgender minors as “genital mutilation,” though experts have said the surgeries are exceptionally rare.

In addition to the medical boards moving to prevent doctors from providing treatments to transgender youths, the state Agency for Health Care Administration last year approved a rule prohibiting Medicaid reimbursements for puberty blockers, hormone therapy and surgery for transgender youths and adults. The rule is being challenged in federal court.

Both of the newly filed bills also would place additional restrictions on treatments — described in the House version as “gender clinical interventions” — for transgender adults. The bills would require doctors to get "informed" written consent from adult patients.

Jim Saunders - News Service of Florida