Proposed Ohio law would block gender transition for youth

State Rep. Mary González, D - Clint, wears the colors of the transgender pride flag while speaking against House Bill 25, that limits the participation of transgender athletes in public school sports, in the House Chamber at the Capitol in Austin, Texas, on Thursday Oct. 14, 2021. (Jay Janner /Austin American-Statesman via AP)

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State Rep. Mary González, D - Clint, wears the colors of the transgender pride flag while speaking against House Bill 25, that limits the participation of transgender athletes in public school sports, in the House Chamber at the Capitol in Austin, Texas, on Thursday Oct. 14, 2021. (Jay Janner /Austin American-Statesman via AP)

A proposed state law that would prevent anyone under age 18 from taking steps toward gender transition is moving in the Ohio House.

The bill would prohibit medical personnel, public or private, from helping minors transition; prohibit public funding to anyone who does so; and prohibit insurance and Medicaid from covering any gender-transition therapy or procedure.

It specifically targets “school nurses, counselors, teachers, principals, or other staff or officials,” requiring them to tell parents – even if those parents are potentially hostile – about a minor’s gender dysphoria.

House Bill 454 is sponsored by state Reps. Gary Click, R-Vickery, and Diane Grendell, R-Chesterland. They introduced the “Save Adolescents from Experimentation,” or SAFE Act, in October and it had a first hearing in the House Families, Aging, and Human Services Committee on Wednesday.

The bill asserts that most children “who are gender nonconforming or experience distress at identifying with their biological sex” lose that feeling by adulthood.

LGBT advocates have denounced the bill as ignoring science and medical authorities, further marginalizing vulnerable youth.

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“It is reprehensible that some lawmakers continue to use trans children as pawns in their reelection schemes,” said James Knapp, board chair of TransOhio. “HB 454 flies in the face of evidence-based best practices and current standards of care.”

The SAFE Act is backed nationwide by the Family Research Council, a conservative religious group that promotes a range of anti-LGBT policies. Copycat bills have been introduced in about half of the states, though many of those bills died in in legislative committees.

Arkansas passed the bill in early 2021 but legal challenges halted its implementation. A similar bill was unsuccessfully proposed in Ohio in 2020.

Cathryn Oakley, Human Rights Campaign state legislative director, characterized the SAFE Act as “a reckless, despicable attack on the LGBTQ+ community.”

“No one should be denied best-practice medical care simply because legislators don’t like or understand them,” she said. “Decisions about what kind of care is suitable for a particular young person should be made by the young person and their parents, in consultation with medical experts.”

In his sponsor testimony, Click suggested gender dysphoria is caused by “multiple mental health factors,” such as “anxiety, depression, suicidal ideations, autism, schizophrenia, low self-esteem, bullying and more.” He also claimed it’s an escape mechanism for sexual abuse victims.

Click denounced gender affirmation therapy as “based on intimidation, fear, manipulation, and isolation,” and blamed its growth in part on the “profitability of gender affirming care.”

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“It shouldn’t require an advanced education to recognize that prescribing puberty blockers and cross sex hormones and placing a child on a path to surgical intervention should not be the first or preferred course of intervention,” he said. “Watchful waiting is the nonjudgmental therapy that focuses on the individual rather than an ideology. The therapist neither affirms nor disaffirms the child’s feelings but rather listens and learns. The therapist allows the child to describe themselves and why they feel certain ways.”

Equality Ohio said the bill would create a precedent for politicians to create arbitrary restrictions on essential medical care, and vowed to fight it.

“Equality Ohio believes that people of all genders and ages should have access to fact-based medical care that allows them to live as the best and most authentic version of themselves,” said Alana Jochum, the group’s executive director. “Enough is enough. All youth in Ohio deserve to have access to medical care, and transgender youth are no exception.”

Click, in his testimony, said those under age 18 aren’t considered responsible adults capable of making many other decisions, so they shouldn’t be allowed to decide on gender transition either.

“The purpose of this bill is not nor has ever been to make a moral judgement or as some have alleged, to deny anyone healthcare or civil rights,” he said. “It has been to ensure that children receive appropriate, ethical and safe healthcare as well as to protect their right to make these choices until the time that they are able to legally and rationally consider the risks and rewards.”

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