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Utah Bill Limiting Gender Affirming Healthcare For Transgender Youth Hits Legislative Roadblock

For Transgender Day of Remembrance, Trans Pride flags were planted outside the Salt Lake City Mayor's office.
Sonja Hutson
Transgender flags were planted outside the Salt Lake City and County Building on Transgender Day of Remembrance in November 2020. Utah lawmakers are considering multiple bills related to transgender rights during this legislative session.

A Utah bill that would limit transgender children’s access to gender affirming healthcare hit a roadblock Friday.

The legislation would ban gender affirmation surgery or puberty-blocking therapy for transgender children who are under 18-years-old. A less restrictive version of the bill was drafted ahead of the House Health and Human Services committee hearing Friday.

The committee was set to vote on the bill to send it to the House Floor, but lawmakers changed course and sent it back to the Rules Committee, which has the power to decide which bills advance to public hearings. Lawmakers were vague about why they sent the bill back.

Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy, said he had concerns about the bill’s drafting process.

“I think there's been a miscommunication about the process,” he said. “This bill came out of Rules [Thursday] with an understanding of how it would move forward, and that's not happening.”

Spendlove declined to answer a question about what the miscommunication was.

Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams was also concerned about the process.

“This bill was drafted in isolation from the transgender community that it impacts,” Williams said. “This message bill claims that transgender kids don't exist, but they do exist. And they are my heroes. They are more courageous than I will ever be.”

Rep. Rex Shipp, R-Cedar City, is the bill’s sponsor.

“This is about protecting children,” Shipp said. “Puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones are are harmful and have permanent cause, permanent, irreversible damage in these kids.”

But according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the leading medical journal for pediatricians, puberty blocking drugs are reversible and are typically stopped at the age of 16. When the drugs are stopped, puberty resumes. The AAP’s guidelines also explain that gender affirmation surgery is usually reserved for adults. The Endocrine Society also has guidelines for treating transgender patients.

However, Atlanta-based Pediatric Endocrinologist Dr. Quentin Van Meter, said during the hearing he rejects those policies because they were created by “activists.” He added he thinks their effects are irreversible.

“These are troubled children,” he said. “They are hanging onto the idea that a new gender will solve their problems.”

Van Meter is the president of the American College of Pediatrics, an anti-LGBTQ organization that has been labeled as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Dr. Jennifer Plumb, a pediatrician at the University of Utah, said lawmakers shouldn’t get in the way of medical decisions made between a family and their doctor.

“I’ve never once done 20 years of doing this — I've never stepped out of a room and thought to call one of you all,” she said. “I've never thought to call a legislator and say, ‘Tell me how to best take care of this kid’ — because I trust the national organizations and agencies, because I trust my colleagues.”

During a news conference Thursday, Gov. Spencer Cox threatened to veto the original version of the bill. He said changes made in the proposed substitute bill are improvements, but he is still wary.

“I think we have to be really careful any time government gets in between doctors and families and patients,” Cox said. “It's not much of a stretch to go from saying, ‘You can only get this type of medical care or you can't get this type of medical care to you have to get a vaccine and government's going to force that.’”

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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