MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Harleigh Walker, 15, a ninth-grade student, spends her time after school like many girls her age: doing homework, listening to Taylor Swift, collecting records and hanging out with friends.
But this year, her spring break also included an attempt to persuade members of the State House and Senate to reject legislation banning gender-affirming drugs for transgender children like her under 19. She did not succeed. Alabama lawmakers passed the measure on Thursday and Gov. Kay Ivey signed it into law on Friday, meaning Harleigh will no longer be able to take testosterone-blocking drugs.
“Honestly, I’m a little scared now,” she said Thursday after learning the bill had passed. “But we will always fight no matter what.”
Harleigh said she remains hopeful the bill will be blocked in court.
Alabama is among several states with Republican-controlled legislatures that have advanced bills not only to block medical treatment, but also to ban transgender children from using school bathrooms or playing on sports teams. who do not match their sex at birth. Alabama’s drug bill is one of the most ambitious: it would put doctors in prison for up to 10 years for prescribing puberty blockers or hormone treatment to trans children under 19.
“In an incredibly cruel and cowardly day, the Alabama Legislature passed the most anti-transgender legislative package in history,” said Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel for the Human Rights Campaign. , a national LGBTQ advocacy group.
Conservative lawmakers say the measures are necessary to protect children and parental rights.
“We regulate all kinds of things that are harmful to minors – alcohol, cigarette smoke, vaping, tattoos – because their minds aren’t ready to make those decisions about things that can affect them in the long run” said Rep. Wes Allen, the sponsor of the House version of Alabama’s legislation. Allen cited testimony from a public hearing of a woman who said she regretted having taken hormone therapy in an attempt to become a man.
“With these powerful drugs that have long-term adverse effects on their bodies, we just want to put a break on it…give them a chance to grow and grow out of it,” Allen said.
But opponents say transgender health is being used as a deliberate political issue to motivate a voter base – in the same way they say critical race theory bills have been used. Critical race theory is a way of thinking about American history through the prism of racism. Many Republican-controlled legislatures have proposed bills to block its teaching in public schools.
The measures regarding trans youth have prompted a swift response from medical experts, Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration, the US Department of Justice and the families of trans youth. Last month, the Justice Department sent a letter to all 50 state attorneys general, warning them that preventing transgender and non-binary youth from receiving gender-affirming care could violate federal constitutional protections.
“My child is not a political tool. It’s not a fair fight to go after vulnerable children,” Vanessa Finney Tate, the mother of a 13-year-old trans boy in Birmingham, Alabama, said after testifying at a public legislative hearing. on a bill that would prevent students from using the restroom. corresponding to their sex.
Harleigh’s father, Jeff Walker, notes that many of the same Alabama lawmakers who supported banning gender-affirming medical treatments recently said, “It’s your body and your choice” regarding vaccinations against coronavirus. He said the family is now scrambling to find another state where they can continue Harleigh’s medical care.
“We just don’t want people interfering with our medical care,” he said.
Medical groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, have publicly opposed efforts to ban gender-affirming care.
“Gender-affirming care benefits the health and psychological functioning of transgender and gender-diverse youth,” the Endocrine Society said in a statement. “When an individual’s gender identity is not respected and they cannot access medical care, it can lead to higher scores for psychological problems and can increase the risk of suicide or other acts of self-harm.”
The organization notes that only reversible puberty blockers are recommended for young teens, while older teens might benefit from hormone therapy.
Harleigh was only given the drug – which stops him going through male puberty – after consulting a team of doctors for years. She said it was “bizarre” to see lawmakers with no medical background calling her drugs “child abuse”, when six doctors agreed she should be on it.
Angus, a 16-year-old trans teenager who asked that his last name not be used because of the bullying he suffered in his northern Alabama town, said he knew by puberty that the mirror reflected “a body that was not mine. .”
After coming out to his mother, he slowly began to test the waters: dressing as a man, changing his name. It was only after years of discussions with a team of doctors that he was recently able to obtain medication to stop his period. The next step, which he is eager to begin, would be a small dose of testosterone.
“I’ve been waiting seven years to finally become a man, the man I always knew I was,” Angus said.
He said bills to block such treatment harm and fail to protect trans youth.
“The government is saying, ‘Oh, parents are abusing their children by letting them transition,'” he said. “In fact, it’s more child abuse than not letting them transition if they come out. What these bills really do is put the lives of young trans people at risk, because these Suicide rates will increase exponentially, and many families will lose their children.
Similar bans are advancing in other states.
In Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has ordered the state’s child welfare agency to investigate reports of childcare abuse confirming the gender of children. And a law in Arkansas prohibits gender-affirming drugs. However, this law was blocked by a court.
Young trans people in many red states say they feel attacked, angry, betrayed and scared by the wave of laws aimed at them.
“It feels like a stab in the back,” Harleigh said. “I have lived in this state all my life. That they just say, “Well, you know what, this is a very popular issue on my side of the aisle, so I’m just going to pick it up and support it, because it’ll help me win. my elections” — It just hurts to see them do that.