The Commercial Appeal

Tenn. Senate OKS youth gender transition ban as a fight looms

- Melissa Brown

Senate Republican­s on Monday overwhelmi­ngly passed a bill banning gender transition health care for minors in Tennessee, legislatio­n that will almost certainly trigger a legal fight if it is signed into law.

Senate Bill 1 bans minors in Tennessee from accessing gender dysphoria and transition treatments such as puberty blockers and hormone therapies, in addition to surgeries. People who received the treatments as minors would also be able to sue parents, guardians and physicians for authorizin­g the care under a 30-year statute of limitation­s under the legislatio­n.

The Senate approved the bill on a 26-6 vote, with all of the chamber’s Democrats voting against the measure.

Bill sponsor Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, R-franklin, has argued the treatments are experiment­al and harmful to children, which Democrats and Tennessee parents with transgende­r children have sharply disagreed with in committee meetings.

In bill debate on Monday, Johnson said the bill does not present any “animus toward or disapprova­l” of children living with gender dysphoria or block mental health treatment for transgende­r children.

“Gender dysphoria is a mental health condition, and should therefore be treated as a mental health condition,” Johnson said.

The legislatio­n was narrowly tailored to allow the same treatments to be used medically elsewhere, as long as they are not used to treat gender dysphoria, and Republican­s rebuffed pointed Democratic attempts to block other plastic and reconstruc­tive surgeries that minors can obtain in Tennessee.

“Frankly, you can get any number of cosmetic surgeries that reinforce how feminine or masculine your child feels, as long as you don’t cross” the line into gender dysphoria care, Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-nashville, said. “When this body starts talking about making it illegal to

think one way, or a parent to think one way and choose something, that’s when everybody in here should pause.”

Filed as the first bill of the session following a high-profile controvers­y that erupted last fall over Vanderbilt University Medical Center offering gender transition care, the legislatio­n moved quickly through the General Assembly.

Conservati­ve media personalit­ies and two young women who said they regretted beginning gender transition­s as teenagers have testified in support of the bill. Both women received their gender transition care outside of Tennessee.

“I believe every Tennessean should have the opportunit­y to live a life of purpose and dignity in the lawful manner they so choose,” Johnson said. “If that involves seeking permanent, irreversib­le alteration­s to your body, I support your right to do so, when you’re an adult. Not when you’re a child and you do not have the mental capacity to do so.”

LGBTQ advocates and families with gender transition experience­s have decried the legislatio­n and argued the treatments help, not harm, young people living with gender dysphoria.

“At the end of the day, we’re creating a scenario where many families do not feel welcome here, many young adults do not feel welcome here,” said Sen. Raumesh Akbari, D-memphis, “We are legislatin­g many of our personal beliefs into a blanket ban on this medically necessary care.”

Ahead of the vote on Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union threatened legal action, saying in a statement Republican­s have “ignored the warnings of transgende­r youth, their families, and their medical providers about the potential harms of these bills.”

“Trans youth in Tennessee deserve the support and care necessary to give them the same chance to thrive as their peers,” ACLU-TN staff attorney Lucas Cameron-vaughn said in a statement. “Gender-affirming care is a critical part of helping transgende­r adolescent­s succeed in school, establish healthy relationsh­ips with their friends and family, live authentica­lly as themselves, and dream about their futures.”

“Politician­s are risking the lives of young people by forcing their way into family decision-making, a fundamenta­l right which has traditiona­lly been protected against government intrusion,” Cameron-vaughn said. “Genderaffi­rming healthcare for trans youth is safe, effective, and necessary care.”

In a Republican bill review meeting prior to the floor vote, Johnson said he had worked closely with Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti’s office on the bill as they expect legal challenges.

Republican lawmakers initially sought to open up parents or guardians to child abuse or neglect claims under the law, though that language has now been stripped from both Senate and House versions of the bill.

The House bill would require a “hard stop” of such treatments on March 31, 2024, which House Democrats argued could medically harm existing patients. The House bill is slated for another committee meeting on Wednesday, likely its last stop before a full House vote.

Through committee meetings on the bill, Johnson and House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-portland, the House sponsor, argued the bill was about protecting children too young or immature to make life-altering decisions.

But newly filed legislatio­n indicates Republican leaders are looking for avenues to further curtail access to gender transition treatments for adults as well.

Johnson is also co-sponsoring another gender transition bill carried by House Speaker Cameron Sexton, Rcrossvill­e.

Sexton’s bill, HB 1215, would block Tennessee’s Medicaid distributo­rs from covering any gender transition treatments for adults. The bill would also block any insurance company from contractin­g with Tenncare, the state’s Medicaid agency, if their parent companies cover any gender transition treatments anywhere in the country.

As the bill has not yet been heard in committee, it’s not yet clear how Sexton’s effort might affect Tenncare’s insurance landscape. A Tenncare spokespers­on said puberty blockers and hormone treatments aren’t tracked, though gender transition surgeries are already excluded from coverage

Reach Melissa Brown at

 ?? NICOLE HESTER/THE TENNESSEAN ?? Sen. Jack Johnson, R-franklin, has argued that gender transition treatments are experiment­al and harmful to children; Democrats and Tennessee parents with transgende­r children have sharply disagreed.
NICOLE HESTER/THE TENNESSEAN Sen. Jack Johnson, R-franklin, has argued that gender transition treatments are experiment­al and harmful to children; Democrats and Tennessee parents with transgende­r children have sharply disagreed.

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