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Bill banning hormones for transgender youth is top priority for SC House GOP

Legislation banning gender transitioning surgery, hormone therapy and puberty-blocking drugs for minors under 18 is on the fast track in the South Carolina House, with approval by the GOP-dominated chamber coming as early as next week.

A participant holds signs up during a rally next door to the Stonewall National Monument on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017, in New York.
A participant holds signs from a stoop next door to the Stonewall National Monument during a rally in support of transgender youth, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

A House panel voted 5-1 Tuesday along party lines to advance the bill, despite the pleas of nearly 50 opponents who argued it will harm transgender youth. Approval by the full House medical affairs committee is expected Wednesday morning, which sets it up for floor debate in the second week of session.

Medical University of South Carolina pediatrician Elizabeth Mack told legislators that no doctor in the state performs such surgeries.

“There is no gender-confirmation surgery occurring here on minors in South Carolina — none,” she said during an hours-long meeting. “So, it’s not a concern, and you can take it off your list of things to be worried about with our youth.”

House Majority Leader Davey Hiott, the bill’s main sponsor, said that doesn’t affect his push for the bill.

“I don’t care if it’s taking place in South Carolina,” said the Pickens Republican. “It should never take place in South Carolina.”

Beyond surgeries for minors, the bill bans drugs that delay youth from starting puberty, as well as the prescribing of testosterone, estrogen or progesterone at levels above what girls or boys their age would otherwise produce — so-called “cross-sex hormones.”

The proposal would enforce the ban by threatening doctors and other health care providers with the loss of their medical license. The parents of the minor — or the minors themselves, after they turn 18 — could either sue or file a complaint to the state licensing board for what the bill labels “unprofessional conduct.”

Activists, transgender people, doctors and others testifying Tuesday repeatedly pointed to the high rates of depression, anxiety and suicide among transgender teens, saying the proposed law would make those problems worse.

“I cannot recall a single transgender patient who does not struggle with these problems,” said Deborah Greenhouse, a Columbia pediatrician.

Rock Hill pediatrician Martha Edwards said doctors do not prescribe puberty blockers or hormones to people under the age of 18 without their parents’ permission. Most children and pre-teens need their parents to accompany them to the doctor’s office anyway. And by the time a child gets to the point of starting these treatments, they will have gone through extensive counseling, she said.

“Neither I nor anyone I know has ever prescribed these medications without the full support of a patient’s family or by the request of their parents. Nor do I even know how I’d do that,” Edwards said.

David and Rebecca Bell experienced the process firsthand with their daughter, the Charleston couple told lawmakers. Their 15-year-old daughter spent seven years in counseling before starting puberty blockers at the age of 12 and hormones not long after.

After getting on the right medications, she was able to get through her mental health struggles, including anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts, both parents said.

“I’m really hoping you’ll think hard about this and the lives this will impact,” Rebecca Bell told legislators.

It wouldn’t be the first time that legislators forced the Bell family to scramble to continue their daughter’s treatments.

In 2022, legislators inserted a clause in the state budget banning her pediatric clinic at the Medical University of South Carolina from using state-allocated money to fund “furthering the gender transition” of youth under 16. Within months of that somewhat vague directive for state taxes taking effect in July 2022, MUSC stopped providing hormonal treatments to transgender youth.

The ban for MUSC remains state law. The bill would extend a more specific ban for all providers statewide until age 18.

It wouldn’t immediately cut youth off their treatments. Medical providers could wean minors off hormones or puberty blockers, but the prescriptions would have to stop by Jan. 31, 2025.

Proponents of the legislation said it protects children from changing their bodies, with the encouragement or influence of adults, in ways they might regret later in life.

“There are few things we do as legislators that are more important than protecting vulnerable children,” said Rep. John McCravy, R-Greenwood, a co-sponsor.

A similar bill advanced to a Senate committee last year, but those hour-long hearings came too late in the session for the bill to get any traction. It never got to the floor. In 2021, a House Democrat filed a similar bill (co-sponsored by McCravy and other Republicans) that went nowhere.

But House Republicans, who have supermajority control of the lower chamber, intend to send their bill to the Senate early this election year. It has the blessing of House Speaker Murrell Smith of Sumter, who’s among the 27 other GOP co-sponsors. They want to move it across before candidate filing starts in March for the June primaries.

At an opening-day news conference laying out their agenda for the session, the Legislative Family Caucus, led by McCravy, called the bill priority No. 1.

LGBTQ advocates are prepared for a fight. A rally is planned Wednesday outside the Statehouse.

“It is heart-breaking that even after such powerful testimony, lawmakers still voted to advance such a divisive bill that cruelly targets children,” said Jace Woodrum, executive director of the ACLU of South Carolina and a leader in SC United for Justice and Equality.

“But together, we will be there every step of the way to speak out and force them to look us in the eye while they harm our community,” he said.

The House subcommittee did approve some changes the bill’s opponents say will lessen the damage.

Those include removing a sentence banning doctors from helping transgender youth access treatments and stipulating that the ban does not restrict counseling or mental health care for anyone who might be struggling — similar to language in the ban for MUSC.

“We do not want to prohibit those under the age of 18 who are experiencing any sort of mental stress to not have mental health support,” said Rep. Heath Sessions, R-Rock Hill.

Legislators also deleted a section requiring teachers, school counselors and other public school employees to notify parents if they believe a student has gender identify issues. It was removed after teachers testified that could result in unsupportive parents abusing their transgender children.

It still bans school employees from encouraging or coercing students to lie to their parents about their identity, though the bill gives no way to enforce that part.

Editor Seanna Adcox contributed to this report.

This story was originally published on the South Carolina Daily Gazette


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