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As a bill to ban gender affirming care for kids moves forward the transgender community pushes back

Woman speaks behind podium while people in background hold signs supporting transgender rights
Regan McCarthy
WFSU news
Paula Pifer says her daughter is the person she is today because of the support she received from her family and the gender affirming care she got from her doctors.

Later this week, a Florida Board of Medicine rule that bans gender affirming care, such as puberty blockers, for most transgender kids goes into effect. Monday, a bill that codifies those rules got its first committee hearing.

As lawmakers prepared to hear the bill, hundreds of transgender people and their supporters filled the Capitol’s 4th floor. They were people like Paula Pifer, whose daughter Hunter is a model pictured wearing Valentino in this month’s issue of Vogue.

"She’s as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside. You would never know that this young woman was born in the wrong body," Pifer said.

Pifer said when her daughter was young she didn’t behave in the ways a stereotypical little boy might be expected to, so Pifer took Hunter to the doctor.

“And the doctor said, ‘there’s nothing wrong.’ He guessed that she was either my gay son or my transgender daughter. So I chose to love her unconditionally," Pifer said.

At age 15, Hunter told her mom she wanted to begin using puberty blockers.

RELATED: A Senate committee advances a bill restricting gender-affirming care in Florida

“She was able to be part of the first generation of transgender children in the United States of America to receive life-saving care. Hunter completed her transition from male to female by the age of 18. She is now 23 years old. She has a bachelor of fine arts from UF and recently Hunter walked runways with Prada in Italy and Valentino in Paris," Pifer said.

Pifer credits family support and gender affirming care from doctors as two important factors that have helped Hunter become the successful woman she is today.

Transgender children are at a higher risk for suicide attempts and substance abuse compared to their non-transgender peers. The National Transgender Discrimination survey found that 41 percent of respondents said they had attempted suicide at some point in their lives.

Todd McCaulighan is a military veteran who at the age of 56 just came out as transgender and will soon receive gender affirming care through the VA. But McCaulighan said getting that care earlier might have saved a lot of heartache.

“I can tell you what would have happened had I gotten it when I was younger. I would have not been an alcoholic. I would have not had a drug addiction. There are a lot of things in my life that wouldn’t have happened—high blood pressure at age 10 because of the stress," McCaulighan said.

Sen. Clay Yarborough (R-Jacksonville) is behind a bill that would stop most transgender kids today from getting gender affirming care until they’re 18. The bill also includes provisions that would allow custody agreements to be revisited if one parent supports a child’s wish to pursue gender affirming care but another does not. And it puts more rules in place for people of any age to receive gender affirming care. Yarborough said his goal is to keep kids safe.

“We have other components in this bill that relate to adults and relate to the expenditure of state funds, but we want to let kids be kids in Florida. The overall goal of the bill is to protect the children of our state," Yarborough said.

During a committee hearing on the bill, Sen. Lauren Book (D-Plantation), a well-known child safety advocate, pushed against that idea.

I have spent my life protecting kids. I will spend the rest of my life and my time when I am no longer in the legislature protecting kids. The parents and adults who are here with these children today want to protect kids. It may not look the way you think it should, but we all want to protect kids," Book said.

Book said it’s clear people on all sides of the issue care about this bill because they want what’s best for kids. They want them to be successful and happy and to avoid the heartache of things like suicide attempts and drug addiction. But she said not everyone agrees on the path to help kids get there and she thinks parents are best situated to help their own children make that decision.

"We all believe in parental rights don’t we? Their rights as parents are the same as yours. They may not think the way that you do, but they want to protect their kids the way that it is their right to do. We know and have heard time and time again the suicide rates that exist for this population. We have a responsibility to allow parents the right to protect their kids the way that they see fit.”

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Regan McCarthy covers healthcare and government in Tallahassee, Florida. She is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

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