By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports
The House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee passed a bill Tuesday that would criminalize gender-affirming medical care for transgender children.
The genital mutilation section was added in 2019 in reference to ritualistic mutilations that some religious or spiritual faiths perform on young girls, entirely unrelated to transgender people.
Skaug’s bill, dubbed the “Vulnerable Child Protection Act,” would prohibit surgeries for transgender children, as well as the use of hormone blocking medications commonly referred to as puberty blockers, and a variety of other medications used for transgender therapies.
The therapies would be allowed for medically verifiable disorders.
Should the bill pass, any person guilty of “genital mutilation of a child” could be punished by up to 10 years in prison.
The committee heard two hours of virtual and in-person testimony from physicians, parents, attorneys and transgender Idahoans. It passed 14-3 on a party-line vote.
The House passed a similar bill last year, but the Senate declined to hear it.
Skaug told the committee that some of the medications or surgeries cause sterility, and that all people have the fundamental right to procreation.
Dr. Brandon Mickelson, president of the Idaho Academy of Family Physicians, opposed the bill on behalf of the academy.
“Youth in Idaho who are struggling with gender roles and identity are in severe pain. It’s a pain that you and I don’t and can’t fully understand,” Mickelson told the committee. “You can choose to declare that it’s not morally or ethically okay for them to be going through this kind of pain, but that doesn’t change the fact the pain is real. These youth are struggling. They don’t know what to do. They don’t know who to talk to. And all too often, they end up killing themselves.”
Mickelson asked the committee not to take away options that physicians have available to help.
“I can assure you that 99% of family physicians in Idaho only want one thing, and that is to provide the best possible care for our patients,” Mickelson said. “Please don’t use legislation to take away any options that might be able to help when our struggling youth are in pain.”
Other physicians testified Tuesday, stating there isn’t evidence that hormone therapies reduce the rate of suicide in transgender people. Some said without the puberty blockers, children will eventually resolve their gender dysphoria and return to the gender that matches their sex.
Gender dysphoria is medically diagnosed when a person’s experienced gender, or gender identity, does not match the gender associated with their biological sex at birth.
Jennifer Blair testified before the committee about a 15-year-old who came into her care who was transgender. She said he was disassociating from his life and struggling with his mental health until they sought medical help and he started puberty blockers.
“Some might have argued we should have waited until he was 18, but I’m convinced by that time he’d be dead,” Blair told the committee.
Multiple parents shared stories about their transgender children and how physicians being able to care for them helped.
Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, offered an unsuccessful motion to hold the bill in committee because he had concerns about the contradictory messages from doctors and strong assertions made in the text of the bill.
Those statements include “some health care providers now routinely administer puberty blockers to prepubescent and pubescent children notwithstanding scientific evidence that children who remain on puberty blockers may never recover lost development and despite known sterility and additional concerns about reduced IQ and future osteoporosis.”
It’s unclear if Skaug’s bill is intended to address Idaho physicians or a national issue.
The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement in 2018, stating it “recommends taking a ‘gender-affirming,’ nonjudgmental approach that helps children feel safe… while allowing children the freedom to focus on academics, relationship-building and other typical developmental tasks.”
In its policy on ensuring comprehensive care, the AAP notes adolescents and adults who identify as transgender have high rates of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, self-harm, and suicide. The policy outlines both the positive and negative side effects of gender-affirming care.
The Endocrine Society also has guidelines and recommendations for adolescents with gender dysphoria that vary based on the child’s age and development.
Rep. Chris Allgood, R-Caldwell, said his biggest concern was protecting children, and voiced concern about potential long-term consequences of the treatments and the conflicting testimony from doctors.
“I feel that it’s important that until we know, we don’t be transforming our children,” Allgood said.
After a lengthy discussion, the committee sent the bill to the House floor with a do-pass recommendation.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, call the 988 crisis line for help.
If you or someone you know is a member of the LBGTQ community and in need of help, visit the Trevor Project at thetrevorproject.org or call 1-866-488-7386.