America’s next wave of anti-trans bills is here and the time to act is now

OPINION: A new law in Oklahoma takes its cues from hateful online campaigns

Across the U.S., states have been introducing a record number of bills targeting LGBTQ2S+ people, and the trans community in particular, for discrimination. A recent bill signed into law in Oklahoma takes a new approach, one that takes its cues directly from hateful and violent online campaigns targeting hospitals that provide affirming care to trans kids. This law may be an omen for the kind of new bills we might see other state legislatures consider in the new year.

Oklahoma’s new legislation, SB 3, appropriates over $100 million that Oklahoma received from the federal American Rescue Action Plan (ARPA), Congress’s massive COVID relief spending package that none of Oklahoma’s senators or congressional representatives voted in favour of. Of that total, it designates $40 million to the state’s university hospital system to “expand the capacity of behavioural healthcare for the children of the state,” but it comes with a steep condition: no hospital can receive any of the funding if it provides any kind of “gender-reassignment medical treatment” to children under the age of 18.

The bill specifies that these limitations are broad, including not only surgeries and hormone replacement therapy (HRT), but even puberty blockers. Notably, it still carves out an exception that allows for widely condemned surgeries on intersex infants that attempt to “correct” ambiguous genitalia and force gender conformity with no knowledge of the newborn’s gender identity.

Oklahoma Children’s Hospital—OU Health was the primary target of the legislation. A part of the University of Oklahoma health system, the hospital’s Adolescent Medicine Roy G. Biv Program, founded in 2016, supported all LGBTQ2S+ children and young adults up through age 24 and, in particular, provided gender-affirming care to trans youth, including hormone therapy and gender-affirming surgeries.

Upon signing the bill, Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) issued a statement that focused entirely on celebrating its transphobic attack and not the other benefits of the appropriations. “It is wildly inappropriate for taxpayer dollars to be used for condoning, promoting or performing these types of controversial procedures on healthy children,” he said, ignoring that the care is supported by all major medical organizations in the U.S., including the American Medical Association and American Academy of Pediatrics. 

Since the bill was signed into law, Oklahoma Children’s Hospital has taken down the Roy G. Biv web page and replaced it with a page that now reads: “In light of the legislation signed by Governor Stitt, we have ceased hormone-related prescription therapies and surgical procedures for gender-affirming services on patients under the age of 18. OU Health provides care in accordance with all state and federal laws and in compliance with regulatory governing bodies.”

 

Stitt praised the program’s closure but said it wasn’t enough, calling on the legislature “to ban all irreversible gender-transition surgeries and hormone therapies on minors” in future legislation. This would follow the lead of Alabama, Arkansas, Texas and Arizona, which have passed similar bans on all trans-affirming care for kids. Through executive action, Texas has also tried to investigate parents for affirming their kids, and Michigan is considering legislation that would even imprison them for it.

Lawmakers in Tennessee are hoping to follow Oklahoma’s example. The Vanderbilt University Medical Center has been a primary target of anti-trans trolls, including Chaya Raichik (@LibsofTikTok) and Matt Walsh of The Daily Wire, hoping to shut down its Pediatric Transgender Clinic. A group of 60 Tennessee House Republicans signed a letter calling on the hospital’s board to “take immediate action” to shut down the clinic. If they don’t comply, lawmakers will propose a bill that mirrors Oklahoma’s, adding to the litany of cruel legislation Tennessee has passed targeting the trans community in recent years.

The motivations behind these bills and other efforts to terrorize clinics supporting trans youth are pure prejudice. The assumption is that forcing trans kids to live through the dysphoric torture of watching their bodies develop the characteristics during puberty consistent with their sex assigned at birth will somehow relieve them of being trans, although there is no evidence to support this. In contrast, research consistently indicates that children benefit from affirmation of their gender identity and go on to live happy, full, productive lives when their dysphoria is relieved. It is these successful outcomes that this cruel legislation is trying to prevent.

On Jon Stewart’s new show, The Problem with Jon Stewart, he recently sat down with Arkansas attorney general Leslie Rutledge, whose state’s law banning gender-affirming care for trans kids was blocked by an injunction after it was signed last year. The interview has gone incredibly viral, with Stewart being celebrated for effortlessly debunking Rutledge’s talking points trying to justify the discriminatory legislation. Every time she tried to spew another baseless talking point of the right, he called her out and corrected her with research about the realities trans kids face.

In addition to following the direction of the “anti-groomer” online movement, Oklahoma’s bill also borrows a tactic from the anti-abortion movement. For over 40 years, the federal government has been banned from allowing any federal funding to pay for abortion services through what’s called the Hyde Amendment. This provision impacts the Medicaid program, which helps cover health costs for low-income people, forcing those seeking abortions to find the funds on their own. Given conservatives’ recent success in overturning Roe v. Wade, it’s no surprise they are using some of the same tactics to try to limit access to the healthcare trans people also need.

By holding funding hostage, conservatives hope that they can bully hospitals into not providing affirming care for trans kids. Should the courts overturn statewide bans like Arkansas’, the right will likely try to pursue this funding strategy instead in an effort to exercise control over all state-run medical facilities and any facilities that accept federal funding.

It’s a dangerous new precedent for trans kids and their families, many of whom are increasingly fleeing states with these bans to access the care they need and deserve. Oklahoma may be the first, but it will surely not be the last.

Zack Ford is a queer writer and activist based in Washington, D.C. He served as LGBTQ Editor at ThinkProgress.org from 2011–2019 and his work has also appeared at Slate, Queerty and his personal newsletter Fording the River Styx. When pandemics aren't a factor, he likes to play show tunes at the piano for his friends to sing along.

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