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South Dakota May Criminalize Lifesaving Healthcare for Trans Youth in Latest Attack on LGBTQ Rights

StoryJanuary 29, 2020
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The South Dakota Legislature is expected to debate a bill today that would criminalize gender-affirming surgery for transgender youth. If passed, House Bill 1057 would make it a felony for doctors to provide anyone under the age of 16 with puberty blockers, hormones and other transition-related healthcare. Medical professionals who provide this care could face up to 10 years in prison under the terms of the Republican-backed bill, which was passed in committee last week. On Tuesday, South Dakota introduced another anti-trans bill that would authorize parents to deny gender-affirming treatment to their children. It’s the third bill targeting trans youth introduced in South Dakota this year alone and one of more than 25 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced around the country. We speak with Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice with the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project, and the award-winning director Yance Ford, who became the first openly transgender director nominated for an Academy Award for his film “Strong Island” in 2018. “It never ceases to amaze me how determined people are to erase trans people — even when they’re children,” Ford says.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. The South Dakota Legislature is expected to debate a bill today that would criminalize gender-affirming surgery for transgender youth. If passed, House Bill 1057 would make it a felony for doctors to provide anyone under the age of 16 with puberty blockers, hormones and other transition-related healthcare. Medical professionals who do provide this care would face up to 10 years in prison. The Republican-backed bill passed in committee last week. Quincy Parke, a transgender youth, testified against the South Dakota bill in the Legislature.

QUINCY PARKE: Let me be clear: As someone who researched my own treatment options and someone who this bill would directly affect, what you’re doing is not preventing harm. You are actively denying medical treatment to children who have such strong feelings of disconnect from their bodies that over half of them are or have been suicidal at some point in their lives.

AMY GOODMAN: On Tuesday, South Dakota introduced another anti-trans bill, that would authorize parents to deny gender-affirming treatment to their children. It’s the third bill targeting trans youth introduced in South Dakota this year alone and one of more than 25 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced around the country.

On Monday, I spoke to Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice with the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project, and the award-winning director Yance Ford, who became the first openly transgender director nominated for an Oscar for his film Strong Island in 2018. I began by asking Chase Strangio to talk about what exactly is happening in South Dakota.

CHASE STRANGIO: What we’re seeing, over the course of the last five years, are escalations in attacks from state lawmakers on LGBTQ people, particularly on trans youth. And this year, South Dakota has a bill that will actually criminalize lifesaving care for trans young people. So we’re talking about care that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends, that the American Medical Association recommends. Just last week, a study came out documenting that the provision of this very care reduces suicidality in transgender young people. So now we have lawmakers disregarding science, disregarding the urgent needs of the trans community, and saying, “We do not care that you might die. We are going to make your healthcare, and indeed your life, a crime.” So, I have to say, having done this work for a long time, this truly is one of the most drastic measures that I’ve seen moving through a state legislature. And it’s at risk of passing.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, if you can also explain both the science of these drugs, but then what this bill says, that they would put a medical provider in jail for up to 10 years for engaging in medical treatment of a patient?

CHASE STRANGIO: Yeah. So, these bills criminalize healthcare that has been provided to trans young people for decades, including puberty blockers, which are medical interventions that really just put a pause on puberty so young people are able to affirm their gender and ultimately go through puberty consistent with who they are. And these are medications that are used for a range of different conditions. And under the bill, they would be perfectly fine if used for other conditions. Only for transgender young people would they become a crime. And the same is true with the hormone therapy that the legislation would criminalize. And again, the lawmakers supporting the bill are talking about surgery, but the bill criminalizes many nonsurgical interventions for trans youth that have been utilized to save lives and ensure that trans young people have comparable health outcomes to their nontransgender peers.

And the bill itself is a bill targeting medical professionals, which would not only compromise their licensure, but criminalize the care that they provide, including potentially throwing medical providers in jail for providing care that would save the lives of their patients. And at the committee hearing in the House, the head of the South Dakota Academy of Pediatrics testified that they had 200 years of physician experience in the room and that the Legislature was urging them to make a decision between jail and saving the lives of their patients. And even in the face of that testimony, they moved this bill forward.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to the bill’s sponsor. This is South Dakota Republican legislator Fred Deutsch speaking in a video posted on the Family Heritage Alliance Facebook page.

REP. FRED DEUTSCH: It’s a bill to help, like I said, with these children that are suffering. It prevents surgeries. It prevents prescription of puberty blockers, to block their normal developmental puberty, as well as gives them strong cross-sex hormones. So, if they’re a boy, it would prevent strong applications of estrogen, and if you’re a girl, the testosterone. Both of them mess children up terribly. We’re talking about mutilation, sterilization and a host of other medical complications, thinning of the bones, brain issues, heart issues. It’s just crazy, what’s going on. We’re trying to protect our kids.

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s South Dakota Republican legislator Fred Deutsch, the sponsor of the bill. Chase Strangio, he says he’s saving children’s lives. Respond to his arguments.

CHASE STRANGIO: I mean, I think the first and most important response is that he’s actually killing children. And he is a chiropractor who every single year introduces multiple bills targeting the trans community. And every year we fight those bills with the truth of our lives, with science on our side, with business on our side, with whole communities showing that what he is doing is a systematic attack on our community.

But I have to say, it is getting so difficult, year after year, to hear these attacks. We already lost one of our lead trans advocates in South Dakota to suicide, who fought against these bills. And now we have lawmakers distorting science in the service of actually, through documentation, acting in ways that will kill young trans people. And so, I have to say, I used to think it was about fear or confusion, and now I truly think that they are implementing a plan that they actively don’t want us to survive. And we are every day going to fight back against that.

AMY GOODMAN: Chase Strangio, can you talk about the fact that this bill, the vote on the bill, has been delayed from Monday to, we believe, Wednesday? Is there something significant in this? Are they getting a lot of response from around the country? And also, if you can comment on the South Dakota governor, Governor Kristi Noem, who has said she has, quote, “a few concerns” about the bill? What do you understand are her hesitations?

CHASE STRANGIO: So, you know, we don’t know exactly why the vote was delayed, but I am going to interpret it as favorable to our side. It gives us more time to push people to continue to contact their lawmakers. And it did come after the governor expressed concerns about the bill. She specifically noted that the bill interferes with the parental right to dictate the healthcare for their minor children, which is a long-standing fundamental right.

You know, the ACLU has made it clear that we will sue them if they pass this bill. And we are driving support all across the country for the trans community, making sure that every single lawmaker in South Dakota knows that we are watching their vote in the House, and if it moves from the House to the Senate, we will be holding them accountable there, as well. So, you know, hopefully, this means that they’re reconsidering their votes and that we can ultimately stop this thing. But no matter what, whether it passes both chambers, we’re going to keep pushing the governor to make sure that she knows that those concerns are legitimate, and she should absolutely veto this bill if it gets to her desk. And if she does sign the bill into law, then we will see her in court.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Yance Ford into this conversation, who is also here in Park City, Utah. Chase, you were just here but went back to New York. Both of you are featured in this new incredible documentary called Disclosure, about trans life. But Yance Ford is the first openly trans director to be nominated for an Oscar. And last week, though you weren’t in South Dakota, Yance, you were tuning in through the stream of South Dakota Public Broadcasting, watching this debate closely. Your response to what you were seeing on the floor of the South Dakota Legislature?

YANCE FORD: I was appalled. I was appalled to listen to a legislator who was claiming, under the auspices of protecting vulnerable children, to have the right to insert himself and his beliefs into lifesaving medical treatment that is provided by professionals — doctors, actual people with actual medical training, science behind them — to provide children in South Dakota with gender-affirming treatment that children and their parents seek out. It was amazing to me to hear someone actually claim that a, quote-unquote, “natural pause” — right? — the pause that would allow for puberty to kick in, and, quote-unquote, “solve some children’s gender dysphoria.” It was like — it was like tuning into a broadcast from Mars, where the crazy people had taken charge of the Legislature and were, all of a sudden, doctors and psychiatrists and endocrinologists and knew better than the hundred years of collected medicalism alone, in addition to the parents in the room.

It never ceases to amaze me how determined people are to erase trans people, even when they’re children. Like, I remember when I was 16, 15, 14, being fully aware of what I was dealing with. And if I had had those choices, if my parents had had those choices when I was that age, I would have had a different childhood. And that someone wants to say, “No, you cannot provide love and care and medical treatment and affirmation to your child, because I think that transgender is a made-up category,” it was — I was furious. I was furious. And I think that the thing that is — the most scary thing about that for me is that it’s not just South Dakota. There are, I think, 13 other states that are going to introduce legislation almost identical to the legislation that was introduced by this lunatic.

AMY GOODMAN: And I want to get to that, the other legislation. But first, Chase Strangio, in 2016, you wrote a piece on the ACLU’s blog titled “If I Were a Student in South Dakota, Chances Are I Would Not Survive into Adulthood.” You talked about suicidality. Can you give us the figures on trans youth taking their own lives?

CHASE STRANGIO: Yeah, no, it’s staggering. And I wrote that piece in 2016 because South Dakota was in the exact same position, considering a bill to bar trans young people from accessing the restroom consistent with who they are. And we’re talking about a community that has documented rates of suicidality that are close to 50%. And those documented rates are directly tied to discrimination that people face in every aspect of life. And when you have government officials with the most power in the state telling young people that they either don’t exist or that they shouldn’t, we know that that exacerbates the rates of suicide.

And what we do also know is that when young people are given access to the very medication that is being criminalized by this bill, those suicide rates drop to being comparable to nontransgender peers. And so, we have lawmakers equipped with information about how young people can either live or die, and they are choosing, quite clearly, the path of increasing the likelihood that our communities suffer serious harm, including early death. And, you know, I think about myself as a young person, and I struggled so much, but I didn’t have lawmakers telling me that my care should be criminalized. Now we’re in a context where that’s what lawmakers are saying to the youth who are watching. And we know that they are hurting because of it.

And so, I am just going to be out here every single day, and I know that my other trans folks are, too, to make sure that we tell young people that we are going to fight for them and that we stop these things from becoming law, so that people’s medication and people’s lifesaving support is not immediately cut off and criminalized.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about the legislation that is being introduced around the country right now, the anti-trans legislation?

CHASE STRANGIO: Yeah. So, the bill in South Dakota is typical of one of two bills that we’re seeing this year that have been introduced in over a dozen states. The bills are both the bills targeting young people through the criminalization or other bans on access to healthcare, including bills that propose intervening through Child Protective Services for parents who support their trans young people. So, imagine how important it is to have parental support. We’re actually seeing proposals to make that support itself potentially a reason to remove a child from a home. So that is another way that we’re talking about incredibly dangerous interventions in the survival of trans young people.

And the second type of bill that we’re also seeing in about eight or nine states are bills that would bar trans athletes from participating in scholastic athletics consistent with who they are. And those bills, like so many bills we’ve seen in the past, are fundamentally connected to controlling the bodies of all people. For example, some of these bills talk about how if any girl is “disputed” as a girl, they have to bring in medical documentation of their internal and external reproductive organs, their chromosomes and their naturally occurring hormone levels. I mean, that is going to be an unbelievable amount of the policing of the bodies of all young women and girls. And so, we’re talking about legislation that will have a sweeping impact across the country, not just on trans young people, but on any young person who doesn’t fit very specific norms of gender. And this is just the beginning of session, so I expect we’re going to see a lot more.

AMY GOODMAN: And what are the states to look at here, where these bills are being introduced?

CHASE STRANGIO: So, you know, we’re following South Dakota closely. We have bills in Kentucky, in Oklahoma, in Georgia, in Washington, in Tennessee, in Indiana, in New Hampshire. I expect that we’re going to see more. Arizona has a few bills pending. Every state is on a different timeline in terms of how quickly these things will move. I think that whatever happens in South Dakota will ultimately set the tone for the rest of session, so it’s critical that we stop that bill there, so that we can continue to build momentum to ensure that we’re able to protect trans young people from these really egregious attacks all over the country.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, can you talk about the parallels to anti-choice legislation around the country? I mean, it sounds so similar to arguments made against abortion, legislators trying to say that it’s the abortion that will endanger a woman’s life, as opposed to a backstreet alley abortion. Are we seeing parallel legislation in these states?

CHASE STRANGIO: Absolutely. We are seeing the reality that our gender justice movements are completely tied together, and our opponents are operating out of the same playbooks. The very things that have progressed through the anti-choice movement over the years around criminalizing the bodies of people who are pregnant, around restricting access to bodily autonomy and then criminalizing the medical providers who provide medical care, that is well supported by the medical profession, is exactly what we’re seeing here. And it’s in the same states. You know, for example, in Georgia, where they threatened to introduce a criminal ban on healthcare for trans young people, they passed a criminal ban on a 10-week abortion ban. So they’re following the exact same playbook across the country, and they’re working together.

So I think it’s important that we remind ourselves that we have to work together, too, because all of these fights are about whether or not we’re ultimately going to be able to retain control over our body and our self-determination, and that is going to impact every aspect of our lives — you know, our ability to control our futures in the labor market, our education, our opportunities, our family planning. And these are critical LGBT issues, gender justice issues and racial and economic justice issues, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice with the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project. Yance Ford, as well, first openly transgender director nominated for an Oscar award for his film Strong Island in 2018.

And that does it for our show. We’ll be live-streaming the Senate impeachment trial starting at 1 p.m. Eastern time today, as we do every day during the impeachment trial.

On Thursday, we’ll be joined by the actor, the director, the writer Viggo Mortensen about his new film called Falling and Thursday’s performance here in Salt Lake City — rather, in Park City, at the Egyptian Theatre of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. The late, great historian Howard Zinn died 10 years ago this week. I’ll also be speaking 2:00 on Friday here in Park City at the Park City Museum right next to Dolly’s Bookstore. You can check it out at democracynow.org.

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