Supporters, opponents debate two transgender bills

Dozens testified on both sides on MLK Day

Rainbow heart drawing on hands, LGBTQ love symbol (Getty images).

Steven-Bear Twoteeth told members of the house judiciary committee Monday that he was scared walking into the Capitol Monday.

“As a trans indigenous man I walked into the building today and I was afraid. I am going to walk into the hallway and I am going to be afraid. Afraid of my own land where my ancestors honored people like me,” Twoteeth said.

Twoteeth is a member of Ojibwe Tribe and is a Blackfeet activist with the Indigenous Organizers Collective and identifies as a transgender indigenous man.

His remarks came during testimony in opposition to House Bill 112 that would limit trans athletes participation in sports to the sex assigned on their birth certificate.

The House Judiciary Committee heard two bills Monday that would impact the rights of transgender youth in Montana.

The bills — house bills 112 and 113 —  would limit transgender youths ability to participate in sports and fine doctors for providing specific care to trans youth.

At the beginning of the hearing, committee chairman Barry Usher, R-Billings, recognized the bills were controversial and that there would be a lot of feelings.

A dozen civil rights organizations, more than 150 business leaders across Montana and hundreds of healthcare providers and medical organizations in Montana have opposed the bills.

The committee started by hearing HB 112, which would require K-16 athletes to participate on the sports team that aligns with the sex on their birth certificate.

Thirteen proponents testified in favor of the bill and more than 30 testified against.

The bill’s sponsor, John Fuller, R-Whitefish, and the people that testified in favor of the bill argued that trans women will take over women’s sports in the future and that trans women have a competitive advantage over their peers, making competition unfair.

“If you don’t pass legislation such as this, it will come to the day where there will be no room, no place for girls and women to compete,” Barbara Ehardt, a Republican legislator from Idaho said during her testimony.

Ehardt recently sponsored a bill similar to HB 112 that was signed into law in Idaho but has since been granted a preliminary injunction by a federal judge.

Rep. Braxton Mitchell, R-Columbia Falls, said he supported the bill because he is worried that people will use gender fluidity as a way to game the system and get a competitive edge.

“A man may not have done so well during the season and has no shot at placing for the state championship. He can go, ‘Well, I’m going to identify as a female today,’ and then easily easily qualify for the women’s state championship,” he said during his testimony.

At collegiate level, a 2011 report conducted by the National Collegiate Athletic Association addressed concerns like Mitchell’s saying, “in the entire 40 year history of ‘sex verification’ procedures in international sport competitions, no instances of such ‘fraud’ have been revealed.”

Zooey Zephyr, a 32-year-old trans woman from Missoula, said during her testimony that the assertion that people transition to gain a competitive edge is false, adding, “it misses why trans people transition in the first place, which is to lead a happier life.”

Laurel Hesse, a legislative Program Manager with the ACLU of Montana, said in her testimony that HB 112 violates the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution and violates other constitutional laws that protect people against discrimination.

The concern that the NCAA Board of Governors would pull events from Montana, like it did in North Carolina when HB 2, or the “Bathroom Bill,” were also raised during testimony against the bill. A 2016 report from the University of Montana estimated that each home football game brought in about $2.5 million of revenue.

Many others who testified against the bill said it would negatively impact trans youths mental health by not allowing them to participate in team sports, which can help lower stress levels and depression.

A 2019 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that nearly 2% of high school students identify as transgender. The data also showed 27% feel unsafe at school, 35% are bullied and 35% attempt suicide.

“Montana transgender people are first and foremost human. As humans we all want to be accepted and to create community,” Cole Read of the Montana Gender Alliance testified.

After two hours of testimony and questions, the committee put HB 112 to rest and introduced HB 113.

HB 113 would allow the state to fine health care workers as much as $50,000 if they “prescribe, provide, or administer puberty-suppressing drugs or cross-sex hormones to a minor to treat gender dysphoria; perform gender reassignment surgery on a minor to treat gender dysphoria; or remove any otherwise healthy or non-diseased body part or tissue of a minor to treat gender dysphoria.”

Thirteen people testified in favor of it and more than 40 testified against it.

Fuller said this bill is designed to protect children from undergoing irreversible medical procedures related to transitioning that they might come to regret in life.

“Each child deserves a natural childhood,” Fuller said, adding that he believes medically treating young children for gender dysphoria is a “one-way street to a lifetime of medical treatment.”

Proponents of the bill echoed Fuller’s argument that trans youth do not know enough about the consequences of medical treatment like hormones and puberty blockers.

“This is unprecedented in bringing government interference into a relationship between a patient, their family and their physician,” Dr. Lauren Wilson, vice president of the Montana’s Chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics.

Hesse argued in her testimony that this bill would violate Article II Section 10 of the Montana Constitution that provides patients a right to privacy with their healthcare provider to make medical decisions free from government interference.

Laura Perry, who identified as a trans man for nine years and then transitioned back to a woman said she is glad she did not have access to the type of care she did as an adult as a kid.

Perry said she had major surgeries like a double mastectomy and had her female organs removed. But, she said, “I’m thankful. At least that I started as an adult, even though I regret this process entirely … Thankfully after nine years I was radically set free by my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and I’m just so thankful to be here to testify today.”

A Cornell University Review that looked at 55 studies from 1991 to 2017 related to the effects of gender transition and transgender well being found “a robust international consensus in the peer-reviewed literature that gender transition, including medical treatments such as hormone therapy and surgeries, improves the overall well-being of transgender individuals.”

Multiple parents of trans youth in Montana testified against the bill.

Jaime Gabrielli, of Helena and mother of a 16-year-old trans teen, said she knew something was different regarding her son’s gender from an early age that couldn’t just be chalked up to being a tomboy.

“Having access to medical professionals has changed my son’s life in all the ways I hoped,” she said. “Making necessary medical care that trans kids rely on illegal does not protect them, rather than protect them these misguided intentions would cause many kids, including my child irrevocable harm.”