Youths in Republican-led states that won’t let them take cross-sex hormones soon may find havens in Democratic-run states.
As Republican legislatures move to ban pediatric gender-transition treatments, Democratic-led states are swinging back with “trans refuge” bills that prohibit courts from enforcing out-of-state laws on minors who cross state lines to access puberty blockers, hormones or surgical procedures.
Minnesota state Rep. Leigh Finke, the state’s first transgender legislator, introduced a bill last month to declare “a trans refuge state by protecting trans people, their families and medical practitioners from the legal repercussions of traveling to Minnesota to receive gender-affirming care.”
“This bill is unfortunately all too necessary as lawmakers across this country seek to limit access to critical life-affirming care,” Kat Rohn, executive director of OutFront Minnesota, said at a Jan. 31 committee hearing on the measure.
The Minnesota legislation, House File 146, is part of a multistate “trans refuge” rollout started last year by the LGBTQ Victory Institute, Equality California and Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California to “shield trans kids and their families from penalties when seeking gender-affirming care.”
California became the first state to pass such a measure with Senate Bill 107, which was signed by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom in October and went into effect on Jan. 1. At least 15 other states have committed to introducing such legislation.
Republican measures seek to put the brakes on the fast-growing medical field of youth gender transition amid questions about the short- and long-term health consequences.
Arkansas and Tennessee approved bans on gender-transition treatments for minors in 2021, followed last year by Alabama. In November, Florida took executive action to prohibit gender-transition hormones and surgeries at the urging of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott took a different tack by ordering the state’s child-welfare agency last year to investigate claims of abuse involving children undergoing gender-transition treatment. The Texas Supreme Court allowed the order to remain in place pending a legal challenge while upholding a lower-court injunction on behalf of the family behind the lawsuit.
Last month, Utah became the first state this year to erect guardrails with a bill that bars minors from undergoing gender-transition surgeries or starting hormone treatments if they have not been diagnosed with gender dysphoria.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, who signed the bill, is hardly an opponent of the transgender community. In May, he vetoed a bill prohibiting biological males who identify as female from participating in scholastic sports over the objections of Republican legislators, who promptly overrode his veto.
In his Jan. 28 signing statement, however, Mr. Cox cited concerns about the medical risks of gender-transition treatments and called for more research.
“More and more experts, states and countries around the world are pausing these permanent and life-altering treatments for new patients until more and better research can help determine the long-term consequences,” Mr. Cox said.
Other states are expected to follow during this year’s legislative sessions.
“Utah became the first state this year to ban gender-affirming care for minors, following a number of states last year, and more than 20 other states have bills under consideration currently, including our immediate neighbors of Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota,” Kat Rohn said at the Minnesota hearing. “And there’s every indication this climate is worsening.”
Supporters of the trans refuge bills cite the heightened risk of suicide for children and teens who are denied gender-transition treatment, while opponents point to the potential medical complications from puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones.
“Loss of sexual function, bone density and interference with brain development are just a few of the risks that puberty blockers pose for children,” Rebecca Delahunt, acting director of public policy for the Minnesota Family Council, said at the hearing. “We’re told a simple pause on puberty.”
What also has trans-refuge opponents alarmed is the potential for such measures to interfere with parental custody.
The conservative Alliance Defending Freedom argued that the California law empowers state courts “to strip parents of custody if a person takes the parents’ child to California and arranges for the child to receive gender transition procedures.”
Alliance senior counsel Matt Sharp gave examples of situations that he said could lead to lost custody, such as a child who visits relatives in California and begins undergoing treatments, or a parent on the verge of losing custody who brings the child to California for gender transition.
PolitiFact disputed a claim that “your child can now be taken from your custody if you do not affirm gender-reassignment surgery,” but it agreed that the California law “clarifies that California courts have jurisdiction over any child custody cases arising from parents taking their children to the state for care.”
California state Sen. Scott Wiener, the Democrat who authored California’s “trans refuge” bill, cited the risks to Texas parents, who may face a child-welfare investigation for putting their children on gender-transition medication, or to Alabama doctors, who can be prosecuted for prescribing the drugs to minors.
“This bill literally protects parents’ ability to make decisions about children’s health care without having to be thrown in prison,” Mr. Wiener told PolitiFact.
Terry Schilling, president of the conservative American Principles Project, said, “Democrats are now waging an all-out war on parents.”
“This Minnesota bill would continue an alarming trend which began in California, empowering judges to strip parents of custody over their children if they object to allowing them to undergo dangerous, life-altering sex-change procedures,” Mr. Schilling said. “In practice, this means any parent risks losing their child even if they simply travel to Minnesota.”
Caitlyn Jenner, a transgender activist who ran for California governor as a Republican, came out in favor of the Minnesota bill. She told Fox News Channel that “I don’t want trans people to be used as a political tool.”
“Trans issues have become this big political battle here in the United States, and this is not going to stop until 2024,” said Caitlyn Jenner, who won an Olympic gold medal in the decathlon as Bruce Jenner before transitioning. “These issues are being used by both sides of the aisle to political posture themselves.”