Some of South Dakota’s most vulnerable teenagers could be denied critical health care if the Legislature passes a proposed law.
State lawmakers are considering a bill that would make it a criminal offense for doctors, physician assistants, or nurse practitioners to provide gender-affirming health care to transgender youth under age 16. House Bill 1057, misleadingly titled the “Vulnerable Child Protection Act,” makes it a misdemeanor to prescribe puberty blockers or hormone replacement therapy, as well as prohibiting any gender-affirming surgery.
Far from protecting vulnerable teenagers, this bill could put them in danger.
Trans youth experience some of the highest rates of depression and suicidal thoughts; some estimates show that more than 40 percent of transgender people in the US have attempted suicide. The American Academy of Pediatrics published a study on Jan. 23, that shows that trans people who underwent puberty-blocking treatment experienced a lower rate of suicidal thoughts than those who wanted the treatment but were unable to obtain it, meaning that denying access to gender-affirming health care can be a life-threatening issue. Previous studies have shown that access to puberty-blocking treatment at a younger age results in improved mental health in later years.
Despite opposition to the bill from the ACLU of South Dakota, medical professionals, and many parents and children in the state, the bill’s proponents are determined to fast-track it. Sponsors introduced it on Jan. 14 and originally scheduled the committee hearing to take place less than 72 hours later.
This would have left little time for South Dakotans to learn about the bill, let alone have an opportunity to contact their representatives.
As someone born and raised in Brookings, I was particularly disappointed to see that our House representative, Doug Post, co-sponsored this bill. His decision to do so is exceptionally frustrating considering significant efforts in recent years by local leaders in Brookings to make the community a safer and more affirming place for LGBT people.
I was proud to see the Human Rights Campaign, a national organization, feature Brookings earlier this month as a “champion for LGBTQ equality.” In just five years, the town increased its score on the organization’s Municipal Equality Index from 12 in 2013 to a perfect 100 in 2018. Though South Dakota has lagged behind other states in promoting equality for the LGBT community, Brookings seemed to be a bright spot for LGBT rights in the state. Either Rep. Post’s position is not in line with the views of the majority of Brookings residents, or the town needs to rethink its celebration of its perfect 100 from the Human Rights Campaign.
HB 1057 is just the latest iteration of more than a dozen anti-LGBT bills introduced in the state in recent years. Prominent examples include the “Bathroom Bill” passed by the legislature but vetoed by then-Gov. Dennis Daugaard in 2016, and legislation signed into law in 2017 allowing adoption agencies receiving state funding to discriminate against same-sex couples.
HB 1057 is the latest attack on trans kids in the state and poses a serious threat to their health and rights. The decision to undergo puberty-blocking treatment and other forms of gender-affirming health care is not a decision taken lightly. Youth and their parents make this decision in close consultation with their doctors. Medical professionals should not be forced to choose between turning young patients away and providing necessary, sometimes life-saving treatment, risking up to a year in jail.
The bill passed out of committee on Jan. 22 and will come to the House floor on Jan. 27. South Dakota legislators who believe in promoting equality, preventing discrimination, and upholding the rights to health and life should reject this bill and other anti-transgender legislation. In doing so, our legislators will take a vital step toward defending the rights of trans youth and making South Dakota a place where the dignity of all people is protected.