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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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Image Credit: Facebook: ACLU

Alabama has become the first U.S. state to make it a felony to provide gender-affirming medical care to trans youth. A law went into effect Sunday that bans 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. 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 make it a felony to provide gender-affirming medical care to trans youth. A law went into effect Sunday that bans 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.

The measure is taking effect even as it’s being challenged by the Human Rights Campaign and other LGBTQ+ rights group. The Justice Department has also joined the case, saying the Alabama law violates constitutional rights. A similar measure in Arkansas has been blocked by a federal judge.

This comes after Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida introduced a bill Friday that would prohibit employers from deducting expenses related to their workers’ travel costs when seeking gender-affirming care for their children out of state, as well as for those seeking an abortion.

LGBTQ+ rights advocates say these laws are violent and discriminatory and deeply harm the mental health of trans youth as they already face a high risk of depression and suicide. A new survey by The Trevor Project found 45% of LGBTQ+ youth in the U.S. have seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. Trans youth and LGBTQ+ youth of color reported the greatest suicide risk. At least 60% of the youth surveyed said they wanted mental healthcare in the past year but were not able to get it.

For more, we’re joined here in New York by Chase Strangio, deputy director for trans justice with the ACLU LGBTQ & HIV Project.

Chase, welcome back to Democracy Now! Talk about the significance of yesterday, the first law in the country that has been enacted, this one in Alabama, against trans youth.

CHASE STRANGIO: Thanks, Amy, and good morning.

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: Chase, let me ask you about the Florida middle school teacher who says she was fired from her job in March for discussing sexuality with her students. Casey Scott, an art teacher at Trafalgar Middle School in Lee County, says her students began asking questions about her sexual orientation. She shared with them she’s pansexual. Her students were then inspired to create art that expressed their own sexual orientation and gender identity. Scott hung their artwork in the classroom. She says she was then told by Lee County School District officials to remove the artwork, was sent home and fired over the phone. In a statement to NBC News, the Lee County School District said Scott was fired because she, quote, “did not follow the state-mandated curriculum.” See, Florida recently enacted the new law known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which prohibits discussion on sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom of younger kids up to third grade, the measure expected to go into effect July 1st. Say more about that.

CHASE STRANGIO: Yeah, I mean, we’re in a situation now where across the country we have these so-called restrictions on any discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity. Of course, everyone has a sexual orientation. Everyone has a gender identity. They are not prohibiting people from talking about boys and girls. They’re not prohibiting heterosexual teachers from talking about their spouses. These are laws that are aimed and targeted very explicitly at the LGBT community. And we’re starting to see the fallout from that. It means that people can’t talk about their families in the classroom. It means that kids can’t share their own experience of existence or the existence of their families. And it’s not just in Florida. Florida’s bill got a lot of press attention, but Oklahoma passed a similar bill. Alabama passed a bill on the final day of session along with the felony health ban. We’re going to see these types of escalations happening across the country.

And the reality is, is that the goal of these pieces of legislation are to expand the power of the state to constrain what we can and cannot talk about, to constrain who we can and cannot be, to constrain the possibilities for our lives. And we’re starting to see it with the control over teachers over this so-called curricular regulation. But the reality is, is that this is a constraint on people being able to share their histories. And the more we constrain the ability to tell the truth about the histories that we’ve all known to be true when we’re in communities whose histories have been systematically erased is that it leaves more space for the government to escalate the type of criminalization that we’re seeing. For example, this type of constraint on discussion of LGBTQ people is not new, it’s reemergent. Alabama, until very recently, had a law that forced — officially had forced teachers to include in the curriculum of the state to express that homosexuality was against the moral fiber of the people of Alabama. We have a long history in this country of criminalizing cross-dressing laws.

And we’re seeing all of these things reemerge at the same time that the government is enforcing these imperatives to erase those histories, so that we can act like these are new things, that they are not part of the centuries-long histories that are designed to expand the power of the state and to constrain people’s survival opportunities. These are not isolated incidents; they are part of a coordinated attack. And we should be very concerned, because right now it’s 2022. We are facing the midterms. We’re facing the 2024 presidential election. And these are all very strategic efforts to mobilize voters, to make it harder and harder for people to build a check on governmental power.

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Trans Lawyer Chase Strangio on Inclusivity: “People Like Me, Who Are Not Women, May Become Pregnant.”

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