Bill to ban gender-affirming care for minors is heard in House committee

By: - March 20, 2023 5:28 pm

Zuri Moreno with the Montana Budget and Policy Center testifies in opposition to SB 99 as bill sponsor John Fuller, R-Kalispell, looks on, March 20, 2023. (Photo by Nicole Girten/Daily Montanan)

Access to gender affirming care significantly reduces suicide among transgender youth and is needed in a state with an already high suicide rate, opponents to Senate Bill 99 testified on Monday.

The bill would ban gender affirming care for minors in the state, with criminal punishments for physicians who provide it. It already passed in the Senate after a marathon hearing and debate on the floor.

“Our state has ranked in the top five for suicide rates for the past 30 years,” said Emergency Physician Dr. Eric Lowe in a House Judiciary hearing Monday. “If this bill becomes law, we will see more youth suicides.”

Opponents slightly outnumbered proponents for the bill; more than 30 people testified for each side. More than a dozen organizations testified in opposition, including the ACLU of Montana, Montana Hospital Association, Montana Primary Care Association, as did several of the major hospitals in the state, like Benefis Health System and Shodair Children’s Hospital.

Proponents included conservative group Family Policy Alliance and Mass Resistance, which was labeled as an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Lowe was one of two doctors Rep. Neil Duram, R- Eureka, asked about whether a person’s gender could be determined in hormone levels in a blood sample.

“I don’t believe that that is a fair statement,” said Dr. Kathryn Brogan, a psychiatry specialist from Helena.

Duram said he disagreed, and an opponent in the audience retorted that Duram wasn’t a doctor.

“You’re right, I’m not a doctor,” said Duram. “But I am married, and my wife is getting these blood tests to determine what hormones will help her in her daily regimen.”

Brogan said hormones exist in different people’s bodies in various ratios and amounts and can vary throughout the day and over a person’s lifetime.

“There is no set-in-stone number that would say, ‘This is female, this is male,’” she said.

Duram followed up with Dr. Lowe.

“I did a very cursory internet search for testosterone levels. For males, it showed typically 300 to 1200 nanograms,” Duram asked Lowe. “If you did my blood sample, and you determined that by my nanogram levels of testosterone, within that range, would you say that there’s a normal reading for an adult man?”

Lowe responded that normal ranges are based on statistics and don’t define someone as male or female.

“There may be a standard range, but whether or not somebody falls within that range does not define them as one or the other,” Lowe said.

The bill was previously amended to include a definition of sex similar to what appears in SB 458, proposed by Sen. Carl Glimm, R-Kila. SB 458 passed third reading in the Senate on Friday and defines sex by reproductive organs.

Proponents included individuals who said they chose to de-transition later in life. Elizabeth Fedak said she would have been interested in transitioning as a child. Fedak said she was representing the Women’s Liberation Front, which lists “abolishing gender ideology” as one of the organization’s focuses.

Opponents included parents of transgender children who spoke to the emotional transformation they saw in their child following gender-affirming care.

Phoebe Cross, a transgender teen from Bozeman, said it was life changing to start testosterone after dealing with depression starting during puberty.

Getting on testosterone took the approval of therapists, gender-affirming care specialists and general physicians, along with six months of gender-affirming therapy before it was considered, Cross said.

“It would be much easier if I wanted to get a boob job or nose job if I was cisgender,” said Cross.

Transgender member of the committee Rep. Zooey Zephyr, D-Missoula, asked that terms like mutilation not be used by those testifying.

Rep. Braxton Mitchell, R-Columbia Falls, said the definition of mutilation is to inflict serious damage on something.

“And if you look at the definition of damage, it means physical harm caused to something in such a way to impair its value, usefulness or normal function,” Mitchell said. “So I think that using the word mutilation is within the subject of the bill.”

Rep. Tom France, D- Missoula, said that would categorize all surgeries as mutilation.

Chairwoman Rep. Amy Regier, R-Kalispell, responded that the term could be used because it’s some people’s opinion.

Rep. Jennifer Carlson, R-Manhattan, said the number of de-transitioners is low, as heard in testimony, but asked bill sponsor Sen. John Fuller, R-Kalispell, about how reversible surgeries would be.

“I think it is indisputable that when you surgically remove healthy flesh, that it is irreversible,” Fuller said.

A mom to a transgender child said that no medical professional ever told them that the only solution to gender dysphoria was surgery.

“The things that have helped to create what I now have as this 14-year-old thriving transgender child have been the things that your cruel bill … threatens to take away,” she said. “Things like support from counselors, support from the medical field, support from their school to just be called ‘him’ instead of ‘her.’”

The committee did not immediately take action on the bill.

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Nicole Girten
Nicole Girten

Nicole Girten is a reporter for the Daily Montanan. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune as a government watchdog reporter. She holds a degree from Florida State University and a Master of Science from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.