SB140 back in GA Senate Monday, March 20
Parents and supporters of transgender children expressed devastation at the Gold Dome on Thursday after the Georgia House voted to pass an amended version of Senate Bill 140, which would ban both surgical and hormonal treatment for minors diagnosed with gender dysphoria and criminalize doctors who treat those children.
Georgia is one of at least 21 states where at least 85 similar bills are in play or have passed this year.
Parents and transgender children will gather for a prayer vigil at 9 a.m. Monday, March 20 at Central Presbyterian Church in downtown Atlanta, then head to the Gold Dome to lobby against its final passage, which could happen as early as Monday morning. The bill would likely go immediately to Gov. Brian Kemp’s office for his signature.
Critics of the bill call it government intrusion into personal medical decisions between families and doctors. Proponents claim the measure would prevent children from making medical decisions with long-term consequences that minors do not fully understand.
Because children cannot legally consent to medical procedures, it would be the child’s parent or parents who would consent to treatment.
“What do you need government for?”
The Clayton Crescent spoke with one of the bill’s cosponsors, Sen. Carden Summers (R-13, Cordele) after the House passed the amended version and sent it back to the Senate.
“It’s passed the house, ma’am, that’s what I know,” Summers said. “It’ll either come back to the Senate for a vote on the amendment where they changed it, and then either we’ll agree or disagree. And then we’ll have to go into conference. That’s the only thing left to do.”
Asked how he feels about the bill, Summers said, “I’m for the bill. I think it’s a good thing. I don’t think anybody should have surgeries under 18 years old. I’m not sure they should have them under 21. But I’m definitely sure not under 18.”
The current version of SB140, as passed by the House on March 17, would allow doctors to prescribe puberty blockers in some cases, as well as to perform surgery on children with ambiguous or deformed genitalia. It also forbids hospitals from allowing doctors to perform gender reassignment surgeries and bans hormone replacement therapy for patients under 18 years old:
The Clayton Crescent asked Summers, a farmer and businessman, whether he had met with opponents of the bill.
“I have met tons of people,” he said. “So I get tons of people, either for or against it. There’s very little middle ground….It’s the same thing you always hear. ‘We shouldn’t be meddling in allowing people to do what they want to.’ But you can’t vote until you’re 18. You can’t own a gun till you’re 18. You can’t drive a car till you’re 16. You can’t get a tattoo till you’re 18. Those type of things, So we just put a number there, 18, I mean, that’s where I think—the brain is not mature, they say, until 25 years old. I don’t know the answer to that. I’m not a medical professional, but I would just tell you that there’s nothing wrong with waiting till past 18 to do what you want to do.”
Asked what he would say to people who say the decision is medical, not legislative, Summers replied, “We can do decisions every day for people and I hate to say that, but we do. So yes, that may be true. Maybe we need to get out of all the decisions. I don’t know the answer to that. But then what do you need government for?”
Proponents of the measure say they don’t want minors to make “irreversible” decisions about their bodies. Some also point to people who “detransition“—that is, people who revert to their previous gender. A 2021 study by Harvard Medical School found that people who detransition (a small percentage of transgender people) did so due to extreme family or school pressure or because of fear of increased sexual assault.
According to Dr. Jack Turban, lead author of the study, “These findings show that detransition and transition regret are not synonymous, despite the two phenomena being frequently conflated in the media and in political debates. For most people, it appears detransition is forced upon them. Our results highlight the extreme barriers transgender people in the U.S. face when trying to live their lives authentically.”
500 metro doctors oppose bill
On March 13, 500 local doctors sent a letter to state House members, urging them not to pass SB140. It read in part:
“While the author of SB140 claims that the bill doesn’t intend to harm anyone, we know from our experiences that revoking access to this health care will inflict severe harm on transgender kids across Georgia. You don’t have to take our word for it—the numbers speak for themselves. In 2022, more than 55% of transgender and nonbinary youth in our state considered suicide. Efforts to roll back their fundamental rights, including their access to health care, are furthering the negative impacts on LGBTQ+ youth’s mental health. It’s unfathomable that lawmakers in Georgia are failing to do anything to combat thisactual health crisis, while continuing to push restrictions on the care that actually helps our communities.”
The current bill would require the state “establish sanctions, by rule and regulation…up to and including the revocation of an institution’s permit issued pursuant to Code Section 31-7-3.” That means the state could revoke the license of any Georgia hospital that allows some (but not all) gender reassignment surgeries.
It also would hold licensed physicians “administratively accountable” to the Georgia Composite Medical Board—in other words, the board could revoke the medical license of any doctor who provides HRT or surgery to minor patients with gender dysphoria.
WATCH: House debates SB140
Clayton officials voted against bill
The entire Clayton County House delegation and nearby members voted against SB 140:
- Debra Bazemore (D-69, South Fulton) – N
- Rhonda Burnough (D-77, Riverdale) – N
- Demetrius Douglas (D-78, Stockbridge) – N
- El-Mahdi Holly (D-116, Stockbridge) – N
- Yasmin Neal (D-79, Jonesboro) – N
- Kim Schofield (D-63, Atlanta) – N
- Sandra Scott (D-76, Rex) – N
- VACANT – 75
“I believe that is up to the parent,” Rep. Rhonda Burnough (D-77) said. “It’s a parental decision and it should be left up to the parents. And as the grandmother of a child, a grandson that’s told us that he’s gay, and the problems that we have had—he’s been cutting himself, he ended up having to go into a hospital for an extended period of time—I just think that those are issues that are better left to that family. And they’re not easy issues to deal with. And so, for someone to dictate to them what they should [do], that just adds more pressure to the parent and the child.”
Rep. Kim Schofield (D-60), who holds a doctorate in theology and leadership from Oral Roberts University and works in the healthcare industry, said, “It’s a sad day in Georgia when we can pass bills like SB140 without even looking at other options. You know, you’re taking away the right between the parent relationship and their child, the doctor and his patient. You’re criminalizing that. I don’t care how you cut it. And it’s a sad day. And the blood of this state is gonna be tied into the lives of these children. And I’m said, and I’m grieved, and I’m angry that we were irresponsible when we failed Georgia’s students, kids, transgender community, and their families.”
To those families, Schofield said, “We’re gonna fight. There should be some lawsuits slapped against the state for civil liberties. This is discrimination in the highest form. It’s medical discrimination. It’s discrimination….Georgia failed miserably. And all of the children that we love and want to protect—I’m gonna tell you the real issue, in my opinion, is that the issue is really not about the gender, the transgender person. It is about you think your morality should [be] upheld, that these type of people should not be seen, heard, or given a chance. You want to push them back into a closet. That’s what this is really about.”
Rep. Sandra Scott (D-76) said, “But the real reality is that they never know what their kids [are] gonna come through….Right now, you know, a lot of them have young kids and they don’t know. And you have always heard that saying, ‘Nothing matters until it hits you at your front door.’ Nothing matters until it hits you at your front door.”
Schofield added, “And I’m concerned about the black-market drugs that these kids will get. You put them at risk.”
She was referring to hormone-replacement drugs that some doctors refuse to prescribe to transgender patients and for which there is an extensive online market. The group Stand With Trans, which also provides support to parents, warns about the dangers of “DIY” hormone-replacement therapy: “Hormones you may be able to obtain through non-medically supervised means (black market) are dangerous. You may not know if what you’re taking is the medication you think it is, and you don’t know if it’s been stored properly or contaminated. You may also be putting your health at risk by not getting the appropriate testing done on a regular basis to ensure that your body is handling the hormonal transition in a healthy way. Without a prescriber, you are taking your life in your hands and putting yourself at greater risk of fatal blood clots and kidney and liver damage. Someone might seek out black market medications if they’re having difficulties getting access to a prescription, but it is not a sustainable, safe, long term solution. The only safe, advisable option is to get medications from your doctor/pharmacy.”
After the Georgia Assembly adjourned Thursday afternoon, a lone youth stood on a streetcorner near the Gold Dome during rush hour, holding up a sign that read, “HRT [hormone replacement therapy] SAVED MY LIFE.”
Rep. Dr. Michelle Au (D-50, Johns Creek), an anesthesiologist and master of public health, calls the bill “state-mandated malpractice”:
My statement on SB140:— Dr. Michelle Au (@AuforGA) March 15, 2023
“Simply put, SB140 amounts to state-mandated malpractice.
Why should politicians be able to pass laws that supersede established medical care standards?
And what patient would prefer their medical care be directed by a politician rather than a doctor?” pic.twitter.com/ZDktC52jiG
LGBTQ legislators: We see you
As the bill came up for a vote in the House, LGBTQ lawmakers expressed outrage and said the bill would endanger transgender youth.
A tearful Rep. Karla Drenner, who was the state’s first openly gay legislator in 2001 and who is the mother of four, said, “To all the children in our state who are going to be negatively impacted: Please don’t lose hope. Please don’t give up. Please don’t kill yourself.”
House Democratic Caucus Whip Rep. Sam Park said, “If you pass this bill, know that it is not to protect the children. You are passing this bill in your political self-interest to rile up your base.”
Rep. Park Cannon said, “I know deeply the people who this bill will impact. They’re the same people who have called and emailed you and have gotten no response. It’s not right. We don’t even have a single transgender elected official in the state House or Senate, and yet we’re setting policy. In the Senate, we have someone who has a transgender child [Sen. Sally Harrell], and we did not listen to her on this bill.”
Parents say they fear for their kids
Parents of children with gender dysphoria said the bill poses a serious threat to their children’s safety and well-being.
Clare Schexnyder, who sent her transgender son to live in another state during high school out of fear for his safety, is calling for families and supporters of transgender children to turn out for a prayer vigil at Central Presbyterian Church at 9 a.m. Monday, then head to the Georgia Capitol to make their presence known. “I think it’s an important day to miss school. I think it’s an important day to bring your kids down,” she said. “Please come out. Please know that you can make a difference.”
In a Facebook post, Schexnyder said, “The people who are carrying the bill really, truly don’t understand anything about protecting our kids. And the governor is ready to sign this bill as soon as it is passed. And ironically, he is going to be signing it on the same day that he is going to make a proclamation that April is Child Abuse Awareness Month. And you know, as a mom, I feel like this SB140 is utter child abuse. And not letting parents and doctors and children themselves make the decisions about their own bodies and who they are.”
Schexnyder, who has been lobbying against SB140 this session, said it was a relief to be in Seattle for a bit. “The last month I spent advocating against this bill, testifying, talking to senators and representatives, and being called a monster, and a child abuser, and that being transgender is not real. And all I want to do for every person is to love and support them. And for my child, I have always wanted him to know that I loved and supported him every day. Every day. And that never changes.”
Schexnyder sees the bill as an unwarranted intrusion into family life.
“We shouldn’t have to be sharing private things publicly because of our rights being in jeopardy.”
Alysa, the mother of a transgender teenager, told The Clayton Crescent, “I’m here because I know that this bill is going to hurt Georgia children and step on parents’ rights.” Her 17-year-old transgender daughter “is a successful high school student, she’s deciding between two great Georgia colleges, although, you know, part of her wants to go out of state because of this, but she’s doing great. And that was not where she was five years ago. Five years ago, we were on suicide watch, so this—you know, all the scary statistics about suicide, they really come down to actual families and the hard decisions we need to make as parents, with our children and with our whole team of specialists who have a great standard of care.”
That standard of care was developed and is regularly updated by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. The most recent update, SOC8, details the process of treatment for patients with gender dysphoria, which is complex. Various factors that clinicians must consider include psychological, developmental, cultural, and family dynamics. Most studies cited in SOC8 show that medical transitioning improved most transgender youths’ mental state, with only a small percentage in one study expressing regrets five years later. A particular factor WPATH emphasizes is the need for familiarity with autistic and neurodivergent psychology, for two reasons: a relatively high rate of gender-dysphoric youth who are autistic or neurodivergent, and difficulties those youth may have in “self-advocat[ing] for their gender-related needs.”
Forest Park resident Jenni Benson said of SB 140, “It’s crap! Glad my grandson transitioned awhile ago. He lives in Colorado but says want to move here.” Benson said her grandson, who is 23, had “two minor surgeries” a few years ago, “but I worry about someday his access to T [testosterone].”
As a young teen, Benson said, her grandson “was a cutter, cutting himself and failing in school. At 14 started taking T, and saw a major change in him! He is now a supervisor at UPS in Colorado and has a pretty girlfriend!”
As for those who back the ban on medical care for transgender teens, Benson said, “Whether you agree or not, it saved his life, no doubt… and when you love a transgender person, their happiness is paramount!”
The Clayton Crescent asked Benson if we could use her name. “Sure, I’m not ashamed or embarrassed! Seeing him happy and productive is all that matters to Grandma!”
Transpeople as targets
Between 2013 and 2020, at least 10 transgender people in Georgia were killed, according to the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s leading LGBTQ+ advocacy group.
Most at risk are Black transwomen like Felycya Harris, who was killed in Augusta October 3, 2020. That same year, John Scott DeVore, who also went by Scottlynn Kelly DeVore, also was killed in Augusta.
Opponents of SB140 say the bill puts transgender people—especially youth—at extreme risk. LGBTQ youth are at greatly increased risk of suicide, as well as physical, mental, and verbal abuse. When similar bills have passed elsewhere, increased attacks on LGBTQ people have followed.
What particularly angers opponents of this bill is that it singles out children, as did last session’s ban on transgender girls playing school sports. The final version of that bill included an expansion of the Georgia High School Athletic Association (GHSAA), specifically creating a committee to go after any school, coach, or teacher who dared to allow transgender girls to play school sports.
Such attacks on transgender youth, whether or not those youth want to join a school sports team, further isolate them from their peers. Non-school alternatives like martial arts, horseback riding, or sailing may be too expensive or far away for some families—and there’s still the problem of finding lessons that welcome transgender kids.
Support for parents
Parents of transgender children may themselves seek out psychotherapy, WPATH notes, specifically in cases like the battle over SB140: “are seeking guidance for dealing with condemnation from others, including political entities and accompanying legislation, regarding their support for their gender diverse child (negative reactions directed toward parents/caregivers can sometimes include rejection and/or harassment/abuse from the social environment arising from affirming decisions (Hidalgo & Chen, 2019); 7) are seeking to process their own emotional reactions and needs about their child’s gender identity, including grief about their child’s gender diversity and/or potential fears or anxieties for their child’s current and future well-being (Pullen Sansfaçon et al., 2019).”
Alysa, who spoke to The Clayton Crescent about her journey as the parent of a transgender child, said, “We come from a very conservative Christian background, so working through these issues, it was an issue of faith, as well as science, for us. So that made it hard. Our families have had to take that journey with us, as well. And what we’ve discovered is that love is the key. Love is the key, and for me, I serve a God of love. And I know He loves my daughter. And I know He didn’t make a mistake when He made her transgender. And the medical decisions followed the love. They followed the love. And they were not quick. It took a while. We had hoops to jump through, but they weren’t hoops, they were carefully-placed checkpoints.”
When her child announced that she was transgender, Alysa said, “My initial reaction, my very first gut reaction, was relief. Because she had been so sad for so long. And I wondered why. And now I had an answer, and I could do something with it. That was my first reaction.
“My next reaction was, I couldn’t eat for months, as I had to navigate all these decisions, in talking to my family, and working with a kid who wasn’t really talking because she was dysphoric about her voice. I mean, that came second, all the anxiety, the trouble, the difficulty. But overwhelming relief was the first thing, because my kid was sad. And that relief is the thing that has been consistent. The seeing the joy in my child is the thing that has been consistent through all of this.”
Asked if she had advice for other parents of transgender kids to consider as SB140 moves through the General Assembly, Alysa said, “Yes. Find your local PFLAG [Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays]. If you don’t have a local P-FLAG, find the closest one and write to them, and they will love you and take care of you. These are parents who have walked this path before.
“I don’t know—I have friends who are right now in that position of, their kid is not ready for cross-hormones, it’s not time, that’s not what the medical establishment is asking them to do, you know, it’s not the right standard of care. And they have to make decisions about staying here [in Georgia] or not. And a lot of them are considering moving—’how can I possibly care for my child?’ But reach out to therapists. You can search ‘gender therapists near me.’ A lot of them have sliding scales. Find somebody who can listen to you, and work from there.”
- Statistics on transgender people in the U.S. (UCLA Williams Institute Svchool of Law)
- PFLAG Atlanta https://www.pflagatlanta.org/
- PFLAG Peachtree City https://www.pflagptc.org/
- The Trevor Project https://www.thetrevorproject.org/
- Stand With Trans https://standwithtrans.org/