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Opinion
The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
 

Leubsdorf: Trans people under attack

Red states unleash laws targeting transgender children, their parents

By Carl P. Leubsdorf
Published: May 29, 2023, 6:01am

A year after the murder of 19 students and two teachers at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School, the Texas Legislature could be trying to curb the state’s easy access to deadly firearms.

As thousands of poor people lose the temporary access to Medicaid gained during the COVID pandemic, it could rectify the state’s shameful status as one of only 10 rejecting the Affordable Care Act’s offer to extend health care coverage to thousands.

Rather, the Republican-dominated body continues to respond mainly to conservative political priorities by targeting society’s most vulnerable members, notably joining the national GOP drive to prevent parents from undertaking gender-affirming treatments for their transgender children.

Ironically, their agenda represents a reversal of the GOP’s longtime governing philosophy: limited government, power closest to the people, individual rights, the primacy of the family.

Measures aimed at transgender children are only part of an agenda heavy on social issues since Republicans tightened their majorities in recent elections. Last year, they barred almost all abortions except in the case of a medical emergency involving the mother.

Meanwhile, legislators are again singling out Harris County (Houston) — two-thirds Latino or Black — for new voter rules despite the absence of significant fraud. And Gov. Greg Abbott is pushing a plan that would weaken the public school system by giving parents of private school students access to state education funds.

Their focus on social issues is hardly unique. It mirrors the way Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and a supine Florida Legislature passed an array of conservative measures designed primarily to bolster his presidential bid.

Their target is a tiny proportion of the 330 million Americans. UCLA’s Williams Institute estimated there are 1.3 million transgender adults in the United States and 300,000 between the ages of 13 and 17.

This year, according to the Trans Legislative Tracker, 73 bills aimed at transgender people have passed in 21 states and nearly 400 remain under consideration. The research group monitoring those efforts says most restrict transgender treatments, bar transgender women from participating in sports or limit changing gender assignments made at birth.

Meanwhile, some Democratic-controlled states like Michigan and Minnesota are moving in the opposite direction, protecting parents of transgender children while codifying a woman’s right to an abortion and making voting easier.

In Michigan, for example, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a new law permanently barring discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity and protecting gender identity as well as expression. She also signed a law revoking the state’s 1931 ban on abortions.

In some instances, proposals to curb treatment of transgender youth have provoked dramatic encounters. The Texas bill awaiting Abbott’s signature drew substantial medical opposition during hearings earlier this year. It would require the state to revoke the medical licenses of doctors who provide treatments like puberty blockers, hormone therapy or surgery to minors in order “to transition a child’s biological sex.” It would ban taxpayer money from individuals and entities, including public colleges and universities, that provide such care to minors.

Its main sponsor, Republican Tom Oliverson, an anesthesiologist, said parents had been “manipulated” into affirming their transgender children and should seek mental health care, other than surgery.

Such moves reflect the prevailing politics of gay and transgender issues, like opposition to gay marriage a generation ago. But the latter has changed dramatically over the years.

Public opinion surveys display some mixed trends. A recent Pew Research Center survey showed 64 percent favor laws protecting transgender people from discrimination with only 10 percent opposed. The remainder had no view.

But a Washington Post-KFF poll found 68 percent of adults oppose access to puberty-blocking medication for children 10-14 and 58 percent oppose access to hormonal treatments for those 15-17.

For now, Republicans politicians in states like Texas can take comfort from the fact that the public favors the restrictions they are passing. But that hardly makes them right — and there is no guarantee it won’t change.

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