House lawmakers Thursday clashed over gender transition medical treatments for children, procedures that are on the rise despite criticism it is damaging, irreversible and is performed on confused adolescents.
For Democrats, a hearing on transgender medical procedures was nothing more than right-wing ideology invading “safe and effective” transgender care and jeopardizing the rights of parents to make health decisions for their transgender children that are backed by major medical associations.
Republicans said they are weighing legislation that would preserve parental authority and prevent permanent harm to mentally unprepared children who undergo often-irreversible sex transition procedures.
“We’re trying to strike the right balance,” said Rep. Mike Johnson, Louisiana Republican and chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitution and Limited Government. “And we do believe Congress has a role here.”
The hearing featured Chloe Cole, who was diagnosed with gender dysphoria at 12 years old. She was treated by Kaiser Permanente “gender specialists” in the San Francisco Bay Area between the ages of 13 and 17 and underwent a double mastectomy at age 16. Ms. Cole reverted to identifying as female a year later and is now an outspoken advocate against children undergoing gender transition procedures.
“I used to believe that I was born in the wrong body and the adults in my life whom I trusted affirmed my belief and caused me lifelong, irreversible harm,” Ms. Cole, who turned 19 on Thursday, told lawmakers. “I speak to you today as a victim of one of the biggest medical scandals in the history of the United States of America. I speak to you in the hope that you will have the courage to bring this scandal to an end and ensure that other vulnerable teenagers, children and young adults. don’t go through what I went through.”
The GOP-led House is weighing federal legislation as Republican states have moved to ban sex change procedures on those younger than 18 years old.
So far, 21 states have passed measures that limit or prohibit gender transition medical procedures on minors. Court injunctions have blocked the laws in five states.
The Republican hearing sought to address a broad array of issues concerning gender transition treatment, from parental rights over such treatment, now limited in states like California, to the participation of biological males in women’s sports.
Democrats said the GOP was scheming to eliminate parental rights they have long championed with a “hateful” hearing that mischaracterized transgender medical care and sought to block parents from helping their children obtain such treatment.
“Gender-affirming care is safe and effective,” Rep. Mary Scanlon, Pennsylvania Democrat, said. “It’s just not up for debate. The partisans who characterize gender-affirming care as radical gender ideology are just repeating right-wing talking points to delegitimize critical health care.”
Democrats characterized approved gender medical care for children as strictly non-surgical, despite the testimony of Ms. Cole and an opening video played by the GOP that showed a doctor describing sex change operations he performs on children.
A witness for the Democrats, Shannon Minter, who is the Legal Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said experiences like those described by Ms. Cole are rare and that the only approved treatment for children seeking medical help for gender issues is social support and medication, not surgery.
“The very same medications being prescribed for transgender youth have been prescribed for other young people for other conditions for more than 40 years,” said Mr. Minter, who is transgendered. “There is a substantial body of research that shows these treatments work. They improve mental health outcomes, quality of life, social relationships, family relationships and they dramatically reduce suicidality.”
State bans on gender medical treatment for children, Mr. Minter said, “pose a serious threat to the health and safety of transgender young people across the country.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association both endorse gender transition medical treatment for children.
The Health and Human Services Department describes puberty blockers as fine for use in children and also reversible. Hormone therapy in early adolescence, department officials said, is partially reversible.
The department said that “gender-affirming surgeries [are] typically used in adulthood or case-by-case in adolescence.”
Ms. Cole said her body and voice have been permanently altered by puberty blockers and hormone therapy. Ms. Cole was prescribed Lupron to lower estrogen levels. It is not approved for gender transition treatment by the Food and Drug Administration which warns the drug could lead to cognitive problems and bone loss.
She had to sign consent forms, along with her parents, that included a list of risks, only some of them describing the permanent problems she lives with today.
Her parents signed off on the treatment, she said, because doctors warned her she would die unless they transitioned her into becoming male.
“No matter how much information they would have given me as a child, I just would not have been able to consent to this,” Ms. Cole said. “And my parents were required to sign off on these. But it was under duress. I don’t think it was really consent. It was coercion.”