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Utah lawmakers could move to ban gender-affirming surgery for trans youth in 2023

KUER file photo

A bill filed ahead of the 2023 Utah legislative session would prohibit transgender Utahns younger than 18 from undergoing gender-affirming surgeries.

Utah Republican state Sen. Mike Kennedy is the sponsor of SB16 and a family doctor. His bill specifically bans transgender youth from undergoing genital and top surgeries, even if the parents sign off.

Minors who seek a similar surgery, like a breast reduction, to help ease pain would still be allowed to under the bill.

“If they're doing it for a gender dysphoria treatment reason and there's no other reason than that would be forbidden by this bill,” the senator said during an October Health and Human Services interim committee hearing.

Kennedy claimed that the bill would block minors from making “permanent decisions” that could be “fraught with possibilities for regret.”

Sue Robbins, a transgender woman on the Transgender Advisory Council for Equality Utah, believes this bill will further harm a vulnerable population.

Transgender youth are already more likely to contemplate and attempt suicide. A survey conducted by the Trevor Project found nearly 1 in 5 transgender or nonbinary youth attempted to take their own life.

“Forcibly de-transitioning a transgender youth is going to be the most significant mental health impact possible,” Robbins said.

She added that the transgender youth she’s spoken to feel like the Utah Legislature is “coming after them,” pointing to a policy passed by lawmakers in the 2022 session that prohibits transgender girls from participating in school sports. Although, an injunction placed by a Utah judge has barred the law from taking effect.

Sen. Kennedy’s bill mirrors legislation passed in other GOP-dominated states, like Arkansas and Alabama. The laws limiting access to transgender health care in both states are currently tied up in the courts.

Robbins also questions the bill’s constitutionality. To her, the legislation is “clearly an equal protection issue” because it only restricts elective surgeries for a select group of people.

She said the bill also excludes the intersex community. It would allow parents to perform these elective surgeries on infants to “make them look like what they [parents] expect them to look like.”

If SB16 does make its way through the Legislature, Robbins is confident it will be met with a lawsuit.

State Democratic Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost agreed the bill is sure to face a lengthy legal battle if lawmakers follow in Arkansas and Alabama’s footsteps.

“The state will be involved in a very, very expensive litigation,” she said during the October committee hearing. “And I do believe that the state will lose.”

The fate of SB16 won’t be decided until lawmakers convene for the 2023 legislative session in January.

If you or someone you know needs help, call or text 988 for confidential support from the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

Saige is a politics reporter and co-host of KUER's State Street politics podcast
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