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Public hearing shows divide on House transgender treatment bill

Doctors, parents of transgender children and a former transgender man shared differing perspectives from several experiences with gender dysphoria treatment.

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For the third straight year, Rep. Wes Allen, R-Troy, has a bill in the House to block medical procedures or prescription of medicine meant to block puberty or transition the gender appearance of a minor child.

The bill came before the House judiciary committee Wednesday for a public hearing with a committee vote on the bill planned for next week.

Allen acknowledged to committee members that it’s a difficult issue, and the public hearing was evenly split between supporters and detractors.

“I know everyone on both sides of this issue is about protecting children,” Allen said. 

The speakers included pediatricians with differing perspectives on the bill.

Nola Ernest, vice president of the Alabama chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said banning medications creates a life-threatening situation for teens facing gender dysphoria.

“It is an uncommon but completely understandable condition where gender identity does not align with physical sex,” Ernest said. “Gender exists in the brain. The brain is made up of100 billion neurons. It’s impossible to imagine a scenario which those form to create only two identities. Some 86 percent of gender dysphoric teens contemplate suicide and almost half attempt it.”

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Ernest told the story of “John,” a patient of hers that suffered from chronic pains and migraines, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

“He came straight from the DMV to me with his first driver license with the correct gender marker and name on it,” Ernest said. “He is no longer on medications for migraines or anxiety. Thoughts of suicide are things of the distant past. Please do not take hope from Alabama children.”

Bill Whitaker, a retired pediatrician in Birmingham, said puberty blockers may not be the best treatment for gender dysphoria.

“We as a society must always protect the vulnerable,” Whitaker said. “We must do much more to understand gender dysphoria and do more to support minors experiencing dysphoria.”

Whitaker said medical treatment meant to transition teens facing gender dysphoria is doing harm to the children.

“It’s taking a healthy body and requiring lifelong administration of medications that are dangerous and expensive, and surgeries also,” Whitaker said. “Puberty blockers result in permanent sexual dysfunction. Many never experience sexual satisfaction. You irreversibly castrate both sexes from rest of his or her reproduction system and body— it’s a physiologic decapitation. Puberty is health, not a disease. We’re designed to go though it, not cut it off.”

In addition to the doctors, two parents of transgender teens came to oppose the bill, while a formerly transgender man came to lend support.

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Sydney Wright said her year as a transgender man wrecked her body, and that the system failed her.

“I had a strong desire to identify as the opposite sex,” Wright said. “I sought professional help and was diagnosed with gender dysphoria. The standard protocol was megadoses of testosterone. It ravaged my body, gave me a greater risk of heart disease. It caused me to develop clots. I don’t blame anybody, these are choices I made in my teenage years. I wish somebody could have stopped me. I trusted the doctors. I wasn’t told 98 percent grow out of it with intervention.”

Jeffery White said his transgender daughter is just a person trying to live authentically to herself.

“She is far more than collateral damage in a fabricated culture war she never asked to be a part of,” White said. “Her happiness, her sense of self, should not be stolen by performative zealotry.”

The committee brought some of the speakers back up at the conclusion of their allotted time to sort out some of the conflicting statements made by opposing sides.

Proponents of the bill referred to the puberty-blocking treatments as experimental; one speaker said it isn’t “settled science.”

Ernest said science is never truly settled by nature, but that current science shows gender-affirming counseling and transitioning medication are helping to prevent teen suicides.

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As for the medications used in transitioning, Ernest clarified that they are all FDA-approved, but are not necessarily approved for the treatment of gender dysphoria.

The committee members will have a week to think over what they heard in the public hearing and seek out any additional research before taking up the bill again next Wednesday for a vote.

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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