CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A bill that would ban evidence-based health care for transgender minors in West Virginia, the state estimated to have more transgender youth per capita than any other in the nation, is headed to the governor’s desk. Jim Justice.
The Republican governor has not taken a public position on the measure and it is unclear whether he will sign it into law. A spokesman said he was not available for comment Saturday.
A 2017 study by UCLA Law’s Williams Institute estimated that West Virginia had the highest per capita percentage of transgender youth in the country.
Every major medical organization, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Psychiatric Association, supports gender affirming care for youth.
But lawmakers in West Virginia and other states advancing bans on transgender health care for youth and young adults often characterize gender-affirmation treatments as medically unproven, potentially dangerous in the long term and a symptom of “awakened” culture.
The bill in West Virginia prohibits those under the age of 18 from being prescribed completely reversible hormone therapy and medication to suspend the physical changes of puberty, allowing patients and parents time to make future decisions about to hormone therapy.
The legislation also includes a ban on sex-affirmation surgery for minors, something medical professionals emphasize won’t happen in West Virginia.
The bill contains significant exemptions to the ban on medical therapy for people under 18 at risk of suicide, provisions added in the last week of the 60-day legislative session, which ended Saturday.
The changes, made at the urging of Senate Majority Leader Tom Takubo, who is a doctor, would allow some transgender youth to continue receiving medical interventions under certain circumstances, including hormone therapy if they experience severe gender dysphoria.
Gender dysphoria is defined by medical professionals as a severe psychological distress experienced by those whose gender identity differs from their assigned sex at birth.
During a speech on the Senate floor late Friday night, Takubo referenced 17 peer-reviewed studies that show a significant decrease in rates of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts among youth with severe gender dysphoria who have access to medical therapy.
“These kids are struggling, they’re having incredible hardships,” he said.
The rate of suicidal ideation, or having suicidal thoughts or ideas, for transgender youth in Virginia is three times higher than the rate for all youth in the state, according to research compiled by the Doctors of Medicine West Virginia University using data from the West Virginia Youth Risk Behavior Survey. .
The version of the bill that first passed West Virginia’s Republican supermajority House of Delegates last month does not contain mental health exemptions.
The House on Saturday unanimously approved the Senate’s changes. The amended bill later passed 88-10, with all the “no” votes coming from the body’s dwindling Democratic delegation.
Democratic Del. Ric Griffith, who was the only legislator who spoke on the floor about the measure, expressed support for mental health exemptions and was later one of only two legislators in the minority party to vote for the amended project.
“We talk a lot about, ‘Parents know what’s best for their children,'” said the Wayne County legislator. “That’s a pretty narrow allowance when a child could be suicidal.”
Under the amended bill, a person under the age of 18 must be diagnosed with severe gender dysphoria by at least two medical or mental health providers to access medical therapy, including a mental health provider or a medical specialist for the teenager.
The dose should be as low as possible needed to “treat the psychiatric condition and not for gender reassignment purposes,” according to the bill.
Providers must be specifically trained to diagnose and treat severe gender dysphoria in adolescents and provide written testimony stating that medical interventions are necessary to prevent or limit possible or actual self-harm. The parents or guardians of the minor will be required to give written consent to the treatments.
Hormone therapy could not be provided to minors before the age of puberty, something doctors in West Virginia say would not happen anyway.
The bill includes exceptions originated in the House version for people born with a “medically verifiable disorder,” including people with ambiguous “external biological sex characteristics” and for people receiving treatment for an infection, injury, disease or disorder that was “caused by or”. aggravated by the execution of gender transition procedures”.
People can also access treatment if they are in “imminent danger of death, or deterioration of a major bodily function, unless surgery is performed.”
The vote to send the bill to the governor came two days after crowds of protesters descended on the state Capitol, where chants of “trans kids matter” could be heard from the Senate chamber as lawmakers debated the projects.
The Democratic Del. Danielle Walker, the only openly LGBTQ member of the Legislature, led chants of the state motto: “Highlanders are still free.”