Just a day after the United States midterm elections, the Tennessee legislature introduced bills to ban gender-affirming health care for children in next year’s legislative session.
The bill would ban medical providers from prescribing puberty blockers that delay puberty so that children who are transgender or are exposed to their gender can determine their gender identity. The bill would also ban gender-affirming hormones and surgery. While gender-affirming surgery for children is discouraged under prevailing standards of care and is extremely rare, surgeries to delay puberty are more common and critical to the mental and physical health of many transgender people. The American Medical Association and other leading professional groups have spoken out strongly against restrictions on gender-affirming care.
The Tennessee legislature has been particularly hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth. In 2021, it enacted legislation mandating parental notification and opt-outs when schools use LGBT-inclusive curricula and preventing transgender children from participating in sports with their peers. Previously, it banned prepubertal hormonal interventions in children, confusing critics who pointed out that it is not a standard element of gender-affirming care. The state has also failed to take positive steps to protect LGBT children and does not have comprehensive anti-discrimination or anti-bullying laws to defend the rights of LGBT children.
Tennessee’s bill is the first anti-LGBT bill tabled for state legislatures after the 2023 midterm elections.
But in 2022, state legislators in the US submitted a record number of anti-LGBT bills, specifically targeting transgender people and young LGBT people in schools. Many of these bills passed, with ten states barring transgender students from playing sports, two states banning transgender students from using restrooms, and two states restricting discussions about sexual orientation or gender identity in schools.
Other states have also attempted to restrict gender-affirming care. Alabama, Arkansas and Arizona have all banned various forms of gender-affirming care, with Alabama charging medical providers with felonies. Oklahoma has withheld funds from health care providers who provide gender-affirming care, and Texas has investigated parents who help their children get the care they need.
Tennessee’s bill suggests lawmakers intend to jeopardize LGBT rights again in 2023. Lawmakers, including governors, should firmly oppose these efforts and reject bills that interfere with children’s rights to information and health care.