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Utah Senate approves controversial transgender youth bills

AP — Utah Legislature, Mike Kennedy, Jan. 17, 2023
Rick Bowmer
Utah State Sen. Mike Kennedy, second from left, speaks with reporters on the opening day of the Utah Legislative Session at the Utah State Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023, in Salt Lake City. Kennedy, a Republican family doctor sponsoring the Utah proposal, told reporters that it didn't make sense that health care policy related to gender and youth, which is at times irreversible, would be subject to no government oversight.

The Utah Senate has pushed through two bills affecting Utah’s transgender community. SB16 would ban gender-affirming surgery and hormone therapy for minors and SB93 would prevent issuing a gender-amended birth certificate to minors.

Sen. Michael Kennedy, R-Alpine, told lawmakers this week that gender-affirming procedures “lack sufficient long-term research.”

“But still, our country is witnessing a radical and dangerous push for children to enter this version of health care,” he said.

Senators heard emotional testimony from supporters and opponents in a committee hearing, including some from the transgender community. Some of the hardest pushback came from Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, who is recovering from multiple strokes. A Jan. 19 Senate floor session was briefly paused for Thatcher to lower his heart rate following a tense verbal standoff with Kennedy.

The next day, Thatcher urged his colleagues to consider the consequences of banning potentially life-saving care for transgender youth, who have a much higher rate of suicide, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

We might not understand [gender-affirming health care], we might not like it, but every credible medical organization on the planet says that that is the safest, best and most appropriate care to save those lives.”

Thatcher also believes the bill is unconstitutional because it only pertains to transgender youth.

“If we say we prohibit this care if you're [transgender], but we don't prohibit the care if you're not, I don't see how that holds up as constitutional.”

Thatcher was the only Republican to join Senate Democrats in voting against the bill. It passed on a 21-7 vote. Sen. Ann Millner, R-Ogden was absent.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox told KSL NewsRadio that he would not veto the bill if it makes it to his desk, saying it “approaches [this issue] in the right way.”

Another bill would prohibit issuing an amended birth certificate to anyone under the age of 18. SB93 is sponsored by Sen. Daniel McCay, R-Riverton and would only allow changes to a birth certificate in the event of an adoption or recording error in the original document.

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, joined Thatcher and Democrats in voting against SB93. The vote was 19-8, with Millner and Sen. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, absent.

In a statement following the votes, Democrats said they were “deeply troubled” by the Senate’s actions.

“As Democrats, we stand in firm opposition to any legislation that restricts access to life-saving health care for our most vulnerable youth,” the senators wrote. “Additionally, we believe everyone should have the ability to amend their birth certificates to accurately display their name and identity without excessive barriers and intrusion from government.”

In an allusion to Gov. Cox’s State of the State Address, the Senate’s minority caucus finished their statement by saying that all Utah children, including those who are transgender, “deserve the pursuit of happiness.”

The House could take up the bills as early as next week.

Sean is KUER’s politics reporter.
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