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News / Nation & World

Idaho House votes to criminalize gender-affirming care for transgender children

By Ryan Suppe, The Idaho Statesman
Published: February 14, 2023, 4:19pm

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho medical providers could soon be banned from offering gender-affirming care to transgender children, after the House on Tuesday cleared a bill that makes it a felony.

Sponsored by Republican state Rep. Bruce Skaug of Nampa and the Idaho Family Policy Center, a Christian lobbying group, the legislation would make it illegal for medical providers to offer puberty blockers, hormone therapies and transition-related surgeries to minors — treatment that transgender people, their family and friends told lawmakers can be life-saving.

Skaug told the House Tuesday that surgeries, puberty blockers and hormone therapy make irreparable changes to a child’s development.

“This bill is about protecting children,” Skaug said.

The House passed the bill nearly along party lines. Rep. Matt Bundy, a Mountain Home Republican, was the only member of his party to vote against the bill. He did not debate it Tuesday.

Rep. Lori McCann, a Lewiston Republican, said she was conflicted about the proposal after speaking with several parents of transgender children. McCann said she supported banning transition-related surgeries before 18, but said the bill goes too far by banning other types of care.

“If they were not allowed to have the medications necessary to help them on their journey, it would devastating for them,” McCann said. “If it just said, ‘Let’s not allow the surgery’ … that’s an easy decision.”

McCann ultimately voted in favor of the bill, which now heads to the Senate.

House Democrats said transition-related surgeries are not the standard of care in Idaho, while therapy and puberty blockers help transgender children buy time to make a decision about their preferred gender and feel comfortable in their bodies. They also help prevent suicide, which is common among transgender children with gender dysphoria.

“This is complex,” said House Assistant Minority Leader Lauren Necochea, a Boise Democrat. “We need to trust parents and honor their rights to navigate this process and make these decisions for their kids. The parents of gender-diverse kids are loving parents.”

Transgender Idahoans denounce bill

During a public hearing last week, Eve Devitt, a 17-year-old transgender girl, told a House committee that taking estrogen for the last three years has improved her mental health, and hormone therapy helped save her life.

“I’ve been able to get myself off a cliff that I wasn’t sure if I would ever find myself off of,” Devitt said. “I feel so much better and more complete with myself.”

Devitt produced a permission slip from a guardian to testify in the House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee. Skaug, who chairs the committee, required that minors obtain parental permission to testify before he introduced the legislation on gender-affirming care.

Devitt said she is seeking out-of-state consultation about transition-related surgery. Skaug’s bill would bar her from receiving the surgery and accessing hormone therapy medication, she said.

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“It threatens to mark some of the kindest, most loving and caring people I’ve ever met, my endocrinologist and every other medical professional that has helped me through my transition, as criminals,” Devitt said.

Parents of transgender children also criticized the bill. Some said gender-affirming care helped curb suicidal thoughts and actions.

Shelley Canalia, of Pocatello, said her transgender son, now 24, tried to take his own life five times starting at age 12 and sought gender-affirming care only after “extensive” therapy.

“Gender dysphoria is not discomfort, it is a pain. Watching your child experience that is horrifying,” Canalia said.

Kris Huntting, of Nampa, is transgender and has a transgender child. Huntting said they have felt excessively unwanted in Idaho.

“My kid doesn’t need to feel the way I felt here,” Huntting told lawmakers during the committee meeting. “As an Idaho resident and an Idaho parent, it is my right to have medical discussions with my kid’s doctor about their health care. I’ve seen many of you stand adamantly against the government getting in the way of parenting.”

Doctors offered conflicting opinions about gender-affirming care last week. Dr. Brandon Mickelsen, a family physician from Pocatello and president of the Idaho Academy of Family Physicians, an 800-member nonprofit advocacy group, urged the committee to oppose the legislation because it would remove doctors’ options to care for transgender minors experiencing “severe pain.”

Dr. Rodney Story, a Moscow family physician who supports the bill, said the Idaho Academy of Family Physicians’ stance on gender-affirming care has caused a rift among members. Many have left the organization, in part, because of its stance on transgender health care, Story said.