Rep. Hageman, GOP Lawmakers Propose National Ban on Gender-Affirming Care for Trans Youth

Wyoming congresswoman decries treatment as ‘sexual lobotomy’

  • Published In: Politics
  • Last Updated: Jul 28, 2023

Rep. Harriet Hageman (R-Wyo.) has emerged as a leading opponent to transgender rights, writing Thursday that "Boys are boys. Girls are girls." (Photo via C-SPAN)

By Jacob Gardenswartz

Special to the Wyoming Truth

WASHINGTON — A U.S. House panel on Thursday heard arguments in favor of a national ban on gender-affirming health care for children during a hearing exploring their potential “dangers,” the latest in a nationwide uptick of laws and proposals cracking down on transgender Americans.

During a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution and Limited Government, entitled “The Dangers and Due Process Violations of ‘Gender-Affirming Care,’” GOP lawmakers equated providing youth with health care services affirming their gender identities with child abuse, while Democrats decried the hearing as dangerous political fearmongering.

“This is the mutilation of children, and it should be prohibited by our law,” Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), the subcommittee chairman, said in his opening remarks. Going on to describe transgender health care as “barbarism,” he argued that “no parent has a constitutional right to injure their children.”

“Today’s hearing is not about protecting children or parents’ rights,” countered Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Penn.), the top Democrat on the panel. “It’s a cynical and frankly dangerous political attack on transgender children and their families, driven not by science or fact but by polling and political strategists determined to mobilize conservative voters through fear.”

Among those testifying were several prominent opponents of trans health care, including Chloe Cole, a so-called “detransitioner” who said she was coerced into living her life as a boy when she was a child for no good reason, and Jennifer Bauwens, a therapist who works with the evangelist think tank Family Research Council.

Kicking off the committee’s questioning of the witnesses, Rep. Harriet Hageman (R-Wyo.) highlighted written testimony from Bauwens that equated providing gender-affirming care to youth with the Tuskegee study, in which several hundred Black men in the mid-20th century were involuntarily experimented on as a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s efforts to study treatments for syphilis.

Over 500 laws across 49 states have been introduced this year impacting transgender Americans, according to the Trans Legislation Tracker. (AP Photo/John Hanna, File) 

“You reference the experience at Tuskegee, and to me the important takeaway here is that controversial, so-called health care practices, treatments and experience have not always withstood the test of time,” Hageman said. “Gender-affirming care is better described as sexual lobotomy.”

Reached by phone on Thursday, Jennifer Tabler, a medical sociologist and professor at the University of Wyoming who has studied transgender health experiences and the Tuskegee experiment, took offense at such an analogy.

“That, to me, is like a flabbergasting false equivalency,” Tabler told the Wyoming Truth. “They’re not the same, like, they’re just literally not the same.”

Tabler and several witnesses invited to the hearing by House Democrats noted that permanent medical interventions for youth, such as gender reassignment surgeries, are exceedingly rare. For youth who are diagnosed with gender dysphoria, reversible treatments like puberty blockers are much more common — and even then, only prescribed after significant counseling and once a child has reached adolescence.

“Before puberty, there are no types of medical or medication interventions whatsoever,” Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, testified.

A dearth of research clouds the waters

Chief among Republicans’ professed concerns with gender-affirming care is a lack of research. Indeed, experts across the board agree that further study into the topic would be beneficial.

But studies that have been conducted found gender-affirming care is associated with significant improvements in transgender kids’ mental health, as gender nonconforming children face highly elevated levels of depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation.

Some studies have shown minor health risks associated with hormone therapies and puberty blockers, including the possibility of decreased bone mineral density, hot flashes and mood swings. Yet many such changes are reversible, researchers found, as are the drugs’ intended effect of delaying puberty’s onset.

Nearly every major medical group in the U.S. — including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, American Psychological Association and others — has expressed support for gender-affirming health practices provided they’re prescribed responsibly and within adequate guidelines.

Also central to Republicans’ argument is that interventions should be avoided, as children who question their gender identity may simply grow out of it later in life. Yet according to a study of 317 transgender youth published in the journal Pediatrics last year, just 2.5% “retransitioned” to return to their gender assigned at birth.

“These results suggest that retransitions are infrequent,” the authors wrote. “More commonly, transgender youth who socially transitioned at early ages continued to identify that way.”

“That story is the exception, not the rule,” Minter said of Cole’s experience. “The vast majority of young people who receive these treatments are getting them after careful assessment and because they really need them.”

Growing anti-trans climate

Thursday’s hearing comes as state-level proposals targeting transgender Americans have increased dramatically in recent years. In 2023 alone, 563 bills were introduced across 49 states, according to data from the Trans Legislation Tracker.

Earlier this year in Wyoming, the Senate approved a trans health care ban similar to the one proposed on Thursday, though the measure was never brought to the House for a vote. Lawmakers did pass a law preventing transgender girls from participating in school sports teams, despite Gov. Mark Gordon’s characterization of the measure as “overly draconian” and “discriminatory.” Republican lawmakers in the House passed similar legislation at the federal level earlier this year.

States that passed laws restricting transgender health care for youth have largely seen them struck down in court. Judges in Arkansas, Alabama, Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee all halted enforcement of the laws, though the orders were later lifted in Kentucky and Tennessee as legal action against them continues.

Transgender Americans and their advocates, meanwhile, worry opponents seek to ban not only children’s health care but transgender services more broadly, fears likely compounded by comments like Hageman’s in Thursday’s hearing.

“There’s a 100% failure rate for sex change operations, isn’t there? Because it’s not possible to change your sex,” Hageman posed. She later wrote on Twitter that “Boys are boys. Girls are girls.”

But according to Tabler, that perspective shouldn’t lead lawmakers to prescribe their own views onto others.

“Even if you think you are 100% correct, would you want your individual rights curtailed in the face of some other group that thinks that they are 100%?” she asked.

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