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Chase Strangio: Alabama Ban on Trans Youth Healthcare Is Part of Wider GOP Attack on Bodily Autonomy

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Alabama has become the first U.S. state to make it a felony to provide gender-affirming medical care to trans youth. The Alabama law is the latest in a series of escalating conservative attacks on LGBTQ people in the United States. “This is all happening in the same context that we’re seeing the criminalization of abortion care, that we’re continuing to see the massive suppression of votes across the country,” says ACLU attorney Chase Strangio, deputy director for trans justice with the organization’s LGBTQ & HIV Project. “All of these things are interconnected and creating chaos and fear among individuals, families and communities.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

In a major development in the ongoing attacks on the lives of transgender people in the United States, Alabama has become the first state in the nation to pass a law to make it a felony to provide gender-affirming medical care to trans youth. The law went into effect May 8th, but it’s been partially blocked by a federal judge. The law aims to ban the use of puberty blockers and hormones, which can be lifesaving for trans children and teens. Doctors and others who are found in violation of the law could face up to 10 years in prison in Alabama. Just after Alabama enacted the law, I spoke to Chase Strangio, deputy director for trans justice with the ACLU LGBTQ & HIV Project.

CHASE STRANGIO: I mean, this is just a really devastating and terrifying time on so many levels. And with Alabama’s law, this is a law that’s been introduced in Alabama since 2020. We’ve been able to block it in 2020 and 2021, and they continued to move it forward. Unfortunately, on the last day of the legislative session, it was pushed through. It was immediately signed by the governor. It had an emergency effective date, which meant there was only 30 days from the time it was signed by Governor Ivey in Alabama to when it went into effect, creating an absolute terrifying sea change in the reality on the ground for trans people, their families and their doctors in Alabama — and not just Alabama but across the Southeast. The University of Alabama has a gender clinic that is serving trans adolescents and their families, not just in Alabama but in Georgia, in Florida, in Tennessee, in Mississippi. And now, in a matter of hours, all of that care is becoming a felony, which means families are uprooting their lives. They are trying to figure out when and whether they can get lifesaving care for their adolescent children.

And I think it’s important to note that this is all happening in the same context that we’re seeing the criminalization of abortion care, that we’re continuing to see the massive suppression of votes across the country. And all of these things are interconnected and creating chaos and fear among individuals, families and communities across 50% of the country at least, because we are looking at a situation where, come June, we’re going to have an absolute sea change in the realities of our federal constitutional rights, which is going to lead to actions by the states that are going to continue this type of escalation that we’re seeing in Alabama and elsewhere.

AMY GOODMAN: Chase, let’s talk more about the content of this Alabama law and other similar laws, such as the executive directive that was issued by the Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott, which orders the Department of Family and Protective Services in that state to conduct child abuse investigations into parents who give gender-affirming care to their trans children. The Texas directive is now on hold.

A major new report published last week by the Yale Law School, the Yale School of Medicine and the University of Texas Southwestern notes, quote, “Texas and Alabama officials have falsely claimed that doctors are routinely sterilizing children and teenagers with surgical procedures.” It also says both states, quote, “consistently ignore the mainstream scientific evidence that documents the substantial benefits of gender-affirming care … greatly exaggerate the risks of gender-affirming drug therapy … [and] rely on poor-quality evidence,” unquote.

One of the co-authors of the report, Meredithe McNamara of the Yale School of Medicine and Child Study Center, said, quote, “We need to call for fact-based checks on legal opinions and legislation. Scientists need to have a seat at the table. And perhaps most importantly, there must be a penalty for writing fake science into law. Trans and nonbinary youth are facing the fight of their lives to simply exist and we can’t let them stand alone. This is a matter of life and death,” she said.

Chase, your response? And talk about the significance of this Yale Medical School report.

CHASE STRANGIO: Yeah, I mean, absolutely, this is so important that we have accountability, that we have fact-check. And it is true that these laws are codifying complete misinformation and outright lies about this care. Young people are not being forcibly sterilized when it comes to gender-affirming care. They are being forcibly sterilized in many circumstances when it comes to the nonconsensual surgeries on intersex infants that are explicitly allowed under these laws. But we have to be clear about what’s happening. And it’s not just Republican lawmakers that are codifying this misinformation. The public discourse, the media, is all complicit in this, because we have spent the last five years and more having a debate, a so-called debate, over the legitimacy of trans life, that has allowed these types of laws to flourish.

And the reality is, is that this care is safe, this care is effective. You have 21 medical groups weighing in in court in Texas, in Alabama, saying these laws must be enjoined. This is safe medical care that we have used for decades. This is effective medical care that we know to save the lives of adolescents. And by the way, this care is only provided to adolescents. They talk about children, but this is treatment that is provided to people once they have reached puberty. It is already incredibly difficult to access. There are long waiting lines. There are long wait lists. It can be cost prohibitive already for many families. And the reality is that there are conservative protocols in place that govern the provision of this care through very strictly regulated medical protocols. We’re talking about a situation where parents are consenting, adolescents are consenting, and the doctors are recommending this treatment. And it is treatment that is well studied, it is well provided, and it has documented benefits for these young people.

But instead of recognizing that, we’re in a situation with the escalated criminalization of this care. In the case of Texas, we have the governor directing the Department of Protective Service to investigate families. Thankfully, that is on hold. And then we have Alabama that is now criminalizing this care in the context of the provision of the care by parents and doctors up to the age of 19. And as we’re talking about the ages here, I think it’s really important to note that Republican legislatures across the country continue to creep the age later and later. So we hear the discourse of children, but Missouri, for example, has proposed legislation that would block this care up to age 25. The reality is that it’s not about protecting children. It’s not about protecting anyone. It’s about surveilling and criminalizing trans bodies and making this medical care increasingly out of reach, because we’re continuing to see the propagation of this misinformation about what this care actually is.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Chase, I wanted to talk to you about this historic week around abortion, the leaked draft opinion that the Supreme Court is going to overturn Roe v. Wade. And I want to talk about both abortion and gender-affirming care. We reported earlier that Florida’s Republican Senator Marco Rubio introduced a bill Friday that would prohibit employers from deducting expenses related to their employees’ travel costs when seeking gender-affirming care for their children out of state, as well as for those seeking an abortion. So, if you can talk about what often in this last week hasn’t been talked about as much, because, well, the abortion issue has been preeminent: why it’s important to talk about trans care at the same time? And if you can also talk about inclusive language around pregnancy?

CHASE STRANGIO: Yeah. I mean, I think that if you look at the reality of how specifically the right has systematically over the last 50 years used state legislatures and the federal judiciary to slowly expand the power of the state to control people’s reproductive choices and erode the federal constitutional right to access abortion, that that very playbook is being utilized to constrain much more than access to abortion. It’s being used to constrain access to contraception. It’s being used to constrain access to the restroom if you’re a trans person. It’s being used to constrain access to healthcare for transgender adolescents.

And the reality is that the animating goal behind all of these pieces of legislation is to control people’s bodies, to enforce codes and norms of gender and sexuality that entrench power in the hands of the state, that enforce a heterosexual Christian nuclear family as the only model, that is part of a state-building project, by the way. And so, if we don’t connect these things, we are ultimately going to see the erosion of all of our rights. If you look at something like S.B. 8 in Texas, which went into effect months ago, that type of legislation, that creates a bounty provision where private citizens are deputized by the government to surveil and criminalize and enforce criminal penalties against their neighbors, that is exactly what’s happening to trans young people and their families in Texas and elsewhere. And then you look at the expansion of these criminal penalties in proposed legislations where we’re starting to see efforts to criminalize people for going out of state to access the healthcare that they need in the abortion context, in the trans context, these are part and parcel of the very same playbook. The same lawmakers that are introducing the anti-abortion legislation are introducing the anti-trans bills in the same committees in the same states. It is all part of the same strategy to enforce norms of gender, enforce norms of sexuality, that limit people’s reproductive autonomy and ability to self-determine their identities.

And the reality is, is that we have failed to mobilize collectively, and we have let the right divide us, which has been very effective for them and very unfortunate for us, because we’re looking at a situation now where we are going to see a Supreme Court that is ready and willing to erode not just the constitutional right to access abortion, but the right to access contraception, the right to access marriage equality, the right to determine whether and how we can access healthcare generally when that healthcare is about affirming who we are. So we should have a lot of questions for ourselves in these movements about how we’re going to fight back collectively and not rely on the discourse that the state is setting forth that is set up to divide us.

And when it comes to language and sort of the distraction of inclusive language in the public conversation, you can see — you have this opinion leaked early in the week last week where — and this is devastating for the future of so many people’s ability to survive and access safe medical care. And then you have some people focusing on the fact that, on occasion, we recognize that some people who are not women become pregnant. We may use the language of pregnant people. We may use the language of birthing people. That is just a fact. And the reality is, is women are people, by the way. And people may become pregnant who are not women. That we acknowledge reality on occasion to, you know, hold space for people like me, who are not women, who may become pregnant — that’s just a factual truth — it allows people to have more access to care. It allows a more robust movement that lets more people in, which is always to the benefit of everyone. But we’re not out here saying that we shouldn’t talk about women. People can still talk about women. These laws target women. There is an important conversation to be had about the systematic attack on women’s opportunities, on the regulation of women’s bodies. The reality is such, though, that it’s not just women who are affected. And by the way, the more we have this noninclusive discourse — it’s not just trans men and nonbinary people who are excluded, it’s the entire system of gender-based policing that is then invisibilized, because this harms all of us. And we all have a role to play in fighting back.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Chase Strangio, deputy director for trans justice with the ACLU LGBTQ & HIV Project.

And that does it for our show. Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Camille Baker, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud, Mary Conlon and Juan Carlos Dávila. Our executive director is Julie Crosby. Special thanks to Becca Staley, Jon Randolph, Paul Powell, Mike Di Filippo, Miguel Nogueira, Hugh Gran, Denis Moynihan, David Prude and Dennis McCormick. I’m Amy Goodman. Stay safe.

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