COLUMBUS, Ohio — A controversial bill in the Ohio House would prohibit LGBTQ+ youth from receiving most gender-affirming health care, but there is a lot of misinformation surrounding the bill.
The Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act has had two hearings so far and will be having another Thursday. The previous hearing, which occurred on May 19, was just for bill supporters.
Republican state Reps. Gary Click, from Vickery, and Diane Grendell, from Chesterland, sponsored House Bill 454, which would promote no major care instead of allowing minors to receive the health care they, their parents and their health care professionals think is best.
The SAFE Act would prohibit gender-affirming care for trans and non-binary youth, including hormone blockers, hormone replacement therapy (HRT), surgical procedures and potentially mental health services.
It would require counselors and educators to disclose to parents if their child is questioning their gender.
Healthcare professionals who provide this care could lose their license and be sued.
Public funding would be taken away from institutions that provide care for transgender young people. Insurance providers and Medicaid would not cover gender-affirming procedures for minors.
Cam Ogden, like many other young LGBTQ+ kids and teens have, said she has gone through trauma with not feeling safe in her identity. She watched bill supporters share how they believe the care that helped save her life causes more harm than good.
"The people speaking do not actually have experience treating transgender children or working in the clinics that they so vehemently oppose the existence of," she said.
Aaron Baer with the Center for Christian Virtue has been helping spearhead this legislation. Instead of providing this care, families should be waiting until the minor is a legal adult, so the individual can actually know what they want, he said.
"We don't want to lock a kid into a situation because of a very difficult mental health situation they're going through as a child," he added.
To evaluate the claims that were made by supporters during the bill's second hearing, News 5 reached out to Dr. Anjali Ferguson.
Ferguson specializes in affirming health care, working with gender-nonconforming youth. She is a clinical psychologist and founded a website called Parenting Culture, which is a resource where she has inclusive conversations about raising kids, with a special focus on gender identity and tough conversations.
"Kiddos who aren't matched to their biological sex know their gender identity just as firmly as gender-confirming folks," the doctor said.
Disregarding a child's gender identity leads to the high suicide rates of trans youth, she added. But Baer said that statistics are on his side.
"The evidence shows that the suicide rate on either side of these treatments, whether before the treatment or after, is about the same," Baer said.
That's "absolutely" inaccurate, the specialist responded.
"About 45% of LGBTQ youth have actually considered attempting suicide," she said. "When you receive gender-affirming care, it actually reduces that risk by half — so individuals who received gender-affirming care attempt suicide at less than half the rate of those that do not."
In other research, 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.
Ferguson is not alone in her stance. University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, The Ohio Children’s Hospital Association and the Ohio Psychological Association are among the many that have spoken out against the bill.
"House Bill 454 is a misguided effort that facilitates potential harm to a vulnerable population by denying them access to critical care and support," UH said in a statement to News 5, referencing their solidarity with Ohio Children's Hospital Association.
Bill supporters include the Center for Christian Virtue, Catholic Conference of Ohio, the Alliance Defending Freedom and more conservative groups.
"These hospitals that they are supposed to be able to trust are pushing these dangerous drugs on kids," Baer said.
As well as stating that the procedures are well studied and safe, Ferguson said undergoing gender-affirming care can take many years, and studies show that surgeries typically happen when someone is 18 or older.
"It's a process that involves a lot of conversation, a lot of discussion and a lot of education," the doctor said. "You can't walk in one day and then walk out a different gender."
By referencing dangerous drugs, Baer is referring to hormone blockers and hormone replacement therapy.
"They're appalled when they realize these puberty-blocking drugs that weren't approved for this use by the FDA are being pushed on kids and sterilizing them for life, blocking them from developing the way their body needs to," Baer said, referencing the parents he has talked to.
A study done in April of 2022 by numerous medical and legal scholars from Yale University addressed the claim that the drugs were dangerous and experimental.
The implication that "off-label" use of medication is harmful is "unfounded," the study showed.
"'Off label' means only that the FDA has not specifically approved a particular medication for a particular use," researchers said. "The off-label use of medications for children is quite common and often necessary because an 'overwhelming number of drugs' have no FDA-approved instructions for use in pediatric patients."
Researchers found that pediatricians prescribe off-label drugs in 20% of patient visits, they stated.
"Common hormonal medications used off-label include norethindrone, a progesterone analog used off-label for the treatment of heavy menstrual bleeding in those with polycystic ovarian syndrome," they listed. "It is also used to treat endometriosis, which is a painful inflammatory condition."
Other hormonal medications are used off-label: spironolactone for acne; clonidine, for ADHD and insomnia; propranolol for the treatment of performance anxiety.
"We're fighting to stop the sterilization of children right now in children's hospitals all over the state, including the Cleveland Clinic," Baer said.
Cleveland Clinic did not have an expert available Monday, but the same Yale study addressed his claim — stating that these beliefs are "unwarranted exaggerations, which ignore the substantial evidence of reversibility of the fertility effects of hormone therapy."
About 21% of Gen-Z Americans identify as LGBT, a 2022 Gallop poll found.
Ferguson said the reason for this is because of representation and openness.
"Gen-Z is fantastic in their openness and expression of their gender identities and the fluidity of that process," she said. "I think that flexibility and understanding is something that us older generations just have to grapple with, we just didn't have the same conversations, have the same resources.
"Gen-Z is doing it beautifully. I think we have a lot to learn from them."
But with this increased number of people identifying as queer, another claim that has popped up is that being transgender is "trendy" now.
"What is cool about placing yourself at risk for trauma? You wouldn't be doing this unless you felt very firmly about this being your identity and who you are as a person — nobody chooses to put themselves at physical and emotional risk."
This isn't just a trend, she said.
"These are things that have been happening generationally, there just hasn't been the language for it," the doctor said. "Again, thinking back to like our younger generations, Gen-Z, being so vocal about this, it's really, truly amazing because I think it can shed so much needed light on these discussions."
Detransitioners are taking center stage in the debate, though. While both Ferguson and Ogden insist that everyone's experience is valid — they share that the detransitioner who regrets transitioning in the first place is incredibly rare.
As of right now, 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, Rep. Click's anecdotes of detransitioners on YouTube are one of the main focuses of his reasoning for the bill.
Ogden is worried about the outcome of the bill if trans youth can no longer get this medical care, sharing that she has friends that are currently minors that are terrified.
"One of the most tragic and harmful impacts of this bill, should it be passed, which I hope it isn't, is the forcible detransition of all of Ohio's gender-diverse minors," she said.
The bill has another hearing on Thursday, where opponents will get the chance to speak.
Big day at the Statehouse.— Morgan Trau (@MorganTrau) May 19, 2022
The ‘Human Life Protection’ Act & the ‘Save Adolescents From Experimentation’ Act are being heard.
First 2 pics show trigger abortion ban crowd. The 3 is security, roping off area. 4 is ban of gender affirming care for minors crowd. @WEWS pic.twitter.com/Qt2vQBg2F8