Ignoring the pleas of doctors and knocking down amendments that would have protected psychologists, Republicans in the Alabama Senate on Tuesday passed a bill that would essentially prohibit any doctor from treating or, in some cases, even talking to minors about transgender therapies.
The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Shay Shelnutt, a teacher and coach with no medical training, would specifically prohibit the use of puberty-blocking and hormone therapies and require school counselors to report instances of “gender dysphoria.” The bill also bans gender-affirmation surgeries or sex-reassignment surgeries on children, although such procedures are not performed on minors.
It passed 21-4 and now awaits a vote in the House.
After the vote, Shelnutt said he wanted to “protect children,” and said the male brain is different at 14 than it is at 25.
Several parents of transgender teens and psychologists spoke at a committee hearing last month and told lawmakers that the treatments received are reversible and that they have made life bearable for numerous teens.
The bill drew protests from several transgender teens who marched outside the Statehouse on Tuesday and drew condemnation from LGBTQ advocates across the country. It also, perhaps most notably, drew condemnation from numerous doctors and psychologists, all of whom warned the bill could interfere with medically necessary treatments and lead to increases in child suicides.
The bill is almost certain to be struck down by federal courts. Unlike the House version, Shelnutt’s bill lacks an amendment specifically protecting the work of psychologists with teens struggling with gender identity issues. Two attempts at attaching such an amendment were voted down by Senate Republicans after Shelnutt asked that they be tabled.
“This bill is harmful for several reasons,” said Scott McCoy, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s interim deputy director and the person who would likely file the first lawsuit should the ban become law. “First, it would remove control of vital health care decisions from transgender youth, their families and their doctors and inserts government where it doesn’t belong. Second, it would expose medical professionals who treat transgender youth to criminal sanctions. Third, it would put educators and school personnel in a legal and ethical conflict by requiring them to out transgender students to hostile parents.
“The Alabama State Senate is dangerously close to passing yet another piece of discriminatory legislation that likely will lead to long and expensive litigation at high cost to Alabama taxpayers.”
Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, who fought the longest against the bill, was particularly critical of the bill’s lack of protections for psychologists and was worried that the legislation would criminalize the basic practice of psychology when transgender teens were involved.
At one point during the floor debate, Singleton said, “It’s not like something where we go buy a kit. It’s something inside the child or the person. It’s not something we can turn off or on like a water fountain.”
Shelnutt insisted that there was nothing medically wrong with the children, that it was all in their minds and that his bill would allow “us to get to them before they get a surgery or a drug.”
Singleton reminded him that “psychiatry is a medical practice. It’s medicine of the mind.”