COLUMBUS, Ohio — Only about 0.3-0.6% of people in the United States identify as transgender, according to the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, but this small group has become a topic for legislators across the country. A federal judge in Arkansas blocked a similar controversial bill in July, but the Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act had its first hearing in the Ohio Statehouse Thursday morning.
The SAFE Act, HB454, prohibits specific medical coverage for LGBTQ+ youth, specifically trans or nonbinary people.
“This is not what our state stands for, and it certainly isn't what the Constitution of the United States stands for,” activist Eliana Turan said.
Turan is on the board of directors for the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland and has been an activist for years. She called the bill dangerous and troubling.
“The curriculum of care that's in place right now has been proven by science, is upheld by the medical community as being lifesaving care that reduces the likelihood of suicidal ideation, reduces the likelihood of self-harm and helps the individual to reach adulthood in a way that they can be healthy and happy and confident in themselves,” she said. “What this bill would do [is] take away all of that.”
In short, the bill would prevent gender-affirming care by no longer allowing doctors or other healthcare workers to provide medical procedures, hormone blockers or cross-sex hormones for trans youth. It would also require counselors to tell parents about what the child says in therapy. Healthcare workers who continue to provide this care would have their license removed and can be sued. Public funding would be taken away from institutions that help transgender young people. Insurance providers and Medicaid would not cover gender-affirming procedures.
“I’m a little bit tired, as a U.S. veteran, of getting treated like a second class citizen in this country,” Turan said.
That's because Turan is a transgender woman, serving in the US Army from 2000 to 2006 during the Don't Ask, Don't tell era.
“I just think a lot of the hardships that I walked through could have been avoided if I had had access to affirming care when I was a youth,” she said. “To have that available now, only to take it away, it is a travesty.”
Turan has suffered from suicidal ideation and self-harm, much like the majority of trans youth. About 52% of all-trans and nonbinary youth in the country seriously contemplated killing themselves in 2020, according to a study done by The Trevor Project.
Representative, sponsor of the bill and pastor Gary Click (R-Vickery) explained he doesn't want to ban transgender care for everyone – just minors and doctors who help minors with parental consent.
“We want to make sure, only the people that transition [are] right for transition,” Click said. “The evidence clearly tells us that's not happening, otherwise, there would not be so many detransitioners.”
In actuality, 0.4% of people who detransitioned regretted transitioning in the first place, according to a study done by the National Center for Transgender Equality. However, his anecdotes of detransitioners on YouTube are one of the main focuses of his reasoning for the bill.
When questioned by his fellow colleague Representative Sedrick Denson (D-Cincinnati) on his “qualifications on overruling all of [doctors’] expertise,” he skirted the question and said it was a collaboration of experts.
His experts include a few doctors, anti-LGBT advocacy groups, messages from Facebook users and YouTubers.
“We can go on the internet and basically verify, affirm our position regardless of what it is,” Representative Daniel P. Troy (D-Willowick) said.
Click also made sure to mention the American College of Pediatrics standing behind him, but was quickly shut down by outspoken Representative Beth Liston (D-Dublin), who repeatedly questioned him.
“I have to pause and make sure that we correct some misinformation,” she said. “The American College of Pediatricians is a socially conservative advocacy group of one to two hundred pediatricians, as opposed to the American Association of Pediatrics, the AAP, which is the professional organization of tens of thousands of pediatricians for whom gender-affirming care is the standard of care.”
When asked if he spoke to any hospital associations or doctors in Ohio, he referenced a specific doctor that asked him to make this bill, but would not disclose his name. He claimed to have spoken to the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association, but his language made it clear it didn't endorse his bill – the team just agreed to a conversation.
Although Click is also a pastor, which was brought up by Republican Representative Timothy Ginter (R-Salem), and he mentioned his support and backing from the Center for Christian Virtue, he claimed “I believe in freedom of religion, but not freedom from religion and even saying that this bill does not have religious motivations.”
He wasn’t totally alone in his beliefs. One representative chimed in that she “loved being a woman” and believed that she would get attacked online for saying that and would see it in the "paper." A supporter who travels to states all across the country also spoke out in favor of the bill.
Liston went on to say that he wants to criminalize mainstream care based on small groups of outlier statements, which is what Turan believes.
“[Some Republican legislators] decided to revert into a non-democratic society and are career politicians, many of them are just trying to remain in power by scapegoating and by saying, ‘hey, at least I'm protecting you from these social deviants,” she said. “And [they] say ‘aren’t so happy that we're here to protect you?’ And my answer to that is, ‘no, I'm not happy that you're here and I would like it if maybe somebody else would take your seat and actually do something good.”
She wondered why legislators are choosing to make laws on trans kids instead of dealing with the pandemic, unemployment and inflation.
“I'm coming home and I'm being treated like Public Enemy number one,” she said. “I would have liked it if I had been afforded the same level of freedom and protection that I fought so hard to afford others. And you know, I was a trans youth once as well, and it was hard. We shouldn't be making it harder.”
This bill will continue to be considered by the committee until a mark-up session, where members will propose amendments or they could table the bill, essentially killing it for this session.
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