Hundreds of people gathered at Washington Square Park in New Orleans on March 31, 2023, for a march to mark Transgender Day of Visibility. (Greg LaRose/Louisiana Illuminator)
After nearly five hours of emotional testimony, a Louisiana legislative committee advanced a ban on gender-affirming care for transgender minors Tuesday.
The House Health and Welfare Committee advanced House Bill 463, by Rep. Gabe Firment, R-Pollock, on a 14-3 vote.
Democratic Reps. Jason Hughes of New Orleans and Larry Selders of Baton Rouge and Republican Rep. Joe Stagni of Kenner opposed the bill. Several other Democrats on the committee supported the proposal.
Firment’s bill would ban all gender-affirming treatments for transgender minors. Irreversible procedures such as top surgery, which adds or removes breast tissue, and reversible treatments like puberty blockers would fall under the ban.
Doctors treating minors already under an ongoing course of treatment would have until the end of this year to cease treatments and wean their patients off their hormones.
In his opening statement, Firment said his bill was not about hate but rather about protecting children from what he considers to be experimental treatments. Several doctors who testified pushed back on the idea that the treatments are experimental, pointing to the large body of research that supports the growing field of medicine.
Firment also said he thinks gender dysphoria should purely be treated as a mental health issue, but later said he does not trust mental health providers who support gender-affirming treatments.
The hearing included testimony from dozens of transgender people, gender-affirming healthcare providers and parents of transgender youths who spoke in favor of the bill.
“If HB 463 is passed, it will cause permanent harm. If passed, it will cause permanent, irreversible changes to children,” said Dr. Ryan Pasternak, a professor of pediatric medicine at LSU. “In worsening our mental health crisis, it will lead to more suicide attempts.”
Studies indicate approximately 80% of transgender youth have considered suicide, and 40% report at least one suicide attempt. Research also indicates gender-affirming healthcare leads to improved mental health outcomes.
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Still, most Republicans and Democrats on the committee remained skeptical and, at times, hostile.
Rep. Kenny Cox, D-Natchitoches, repeatedly asked if teens were being groomed to be transgender. Grooming, which typically refers to behaviors sexual predators use to coerce potential victims, is a frequently used anti-LGBTQ dog whistle.
At one point, Cox recommended Pasternak check the pediatric psychiatric facility that refers many of his patients for grooming.
Backing Cox’s claims of grooming was Prisha Mosley, a young woman who said she transitioned as a teen because she was groomed online. Mosley is one of the most prominent advocates for detransitioning and has promoted her story widely in front of right-wing audiences.
Still, many advocates for transgender youth pointed out the rate of regret for gender-affirming healthcare procedures is less than 1%, which is significantly lower than for other common procedures such as knee replacements.
Hughes, attempting a compromise, proposed an amendment to prohibit gender-affirming surgeries for minors but still allow non-surgical treatments, including hormones and puberty blockers, after two years of mental health counseling.
The attempt at compromise was opposed by Firment, who claimed the “gender industry” has promoted the idea that children will die by suicide if they don’t “pump vulnerable kids full of massive doses of powerful drugs.”
Firment said pro-LGBTQ advocates’ claims that the passage of his bill would lead to more young people dying by suicide “is a shameful social engineering strategy to keep societies focused preferentially on transgenderism.”
The amendment failed on an 11-6 vote.
Stagni, who supported the amendments and voted to kill the bill, bucked his party’s rhetoric on the issue.
“We have a very heartfelt debate over a very small segment of the population… I’m a little concerned that we’re embellishing some of the numbers, and we’re making the issue larger than it is,” Stagni said. “I think this bill has a number of unintended consequences.”
He pointed to a Louisiana Department of Health report about Louisiana minors on Medicaid who have received gender-affirming healthcare. The report indicates that although around 40% of children in Louisiana are on Medicaid, just a few hundred have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, and none of them have received gender-affirming surgery since the agency began collecting data in 2017.
Medicaid does not cover any gender-affirming healthcare.
The bill is the third piece of anti-LGBTQ legislation advanced from a Louisiana House committee so far this session.
Last week, the House Education Committee advanced a bill by Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haughton, which would ban discussion of gender and sexuality, sometimes called a “Don’t Say Gay” bill. A bill by Rep. Raymond Crews, R-Bossier City, was approved that would forbid K-12 school employees from calling a child by a name that differs from their birth certificate or using pronouns that differ from the student’s birth sex without parental permission.
Versions of Firment’s and Horton’s bills stalled in committee last year but have renewed support this year.
Firment’s bill next goes to the House floor for a vote.
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