Conservative lawmakers in Michigan have introduced America’s worst anti-trans bill yet: threatening doctors and parents of trans kids with life in prison for allowing minors to access gender-affirming care.
Introduced by Michigan State Rep. Ryan Berman (R-Union Lake) on Oct. 11, House Bill 6454 seeks to change the state’s definition of child abuse to include anyone who “knowingly or intentionally consents to, obtains or assists with a gender transition procedure for a child.” Fellow House Reps. Steve Carra (R-Lansing), Luke Meerman (R-Coopersville), Beau LaFave (R-Iron Mountain) and Steve Marino (R-Harrison Township) have all co-signed the bill.
If signed into law, supportive parents and trans-affirming medical providers could be charged with first-degree child abuse, which is classified a felony in Michigan. According to the state penal code, convictions under the charge are “punishable by imprisonment for life or any term of years.”
Berman has yet to comment on HB 6454, but this isn’t the first anti-LGBTQ2S+ bill in 2022 with his name on it. Earlier this year, Berman co-sponsored legislation to ban schools from hosting drag queen events.
“This bill helps focus on the proper role of our schools,” Berman said in July comments to the Michigan Advance news outlet. “It’s a defence against those that wish to pervert, groom and sexualize our children. Transvestite strippers should not be around kids. Why do they even want an audience of children?”
HB 6454, which has yet to come up for a hearing in the Michigan Legislature, was met with universal condemnation from LGBTQ2S+ advocates when it was put forward last week. In an email, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Jay Kaplan tells Xtra that HB 6454 “substitutes the political agenda of right-wing politicians for the medical judgments of experts in the transgender healthcare field.”
Kaplan continues, “Charging parents with criminal abuse for supporting gender affirming care for their transgender child is a cynical political attack that has no place in Michigan.”
HB 6454 represents just the most extreme version of legislation attempting to criminalize the support that trans children receive. In April, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a bill punishing medical providers who provide healthcare to trans minors with a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. Under a law enacted in Arkansas last year, doctors could lose their licence or face lawsuits from patients for agreeing to treat minors’ gender dysphoria.
Texas lawmakers attempted to pass their own bill in 2021 that would label parents who allow their kids to transition as “child abusers,” while threatening to remove trans youth from supportive homes. When that legislation failed to become law, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a directive in February calling on state child welfare agents to investigate trans-affirming households.
LGBTQ2S+ advocates worry about the impact that these efforts are having on trans children and the people who love them. Erin Knott, the executive director of Equality Michigan, says that her group has been seeing an “uptick” in requests for help from trans youth who are experiencing harassment in the state, with many reporting thoughts of suicide. The Trevor Project reported over 6,200 calls from Michigan youth who reached out to them because they were in crisis over the last year, Knott says.
“Medical decisions belong to trans youth, their parents and their doctors,” Knott tells Xtra over Zoom. “Unfortunately, the Michigan House of Representatives is trying to come between youth and the care that they need.”
The organization is asking Michiganders to contact their representatives to ask them to vote “No” on HB 6454, which is ultimately unlikely to pass. Although Republicans control both houses of the Michigan Legislature—with 60 percent of seats in the House and 55 percent in the Senate—the state’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, is extremely likely to veto the legislation if it reaches her desk.
With midterm elections coming up next month, Knott believes the bill is nothing but a political ploy intended to rile up the GOP’s base.
“This felt like a Hail Mary, a last-minute attempt to throw some anti-trans policy out there to continue a very dangerous dialogue that’s happening,” she says. “What’s unfortunate is, the people that suffer the most at the expense of this type of rhetoric are our trans and non-binary youth. It’s unacceptable.”
However, Knott asserts that the mere fact that a bill as radical as HB 6454 is being discussed could be extremely detrimental to already vulnerable youth, while also setting a bleak precedent as legislatures across the country head into a new year. “These bills may or may not be passed and signed into law; just the mere debate and the headlines are causing real harm,” she says.