LGBTQ+ advocates expressed outrage—and resolve—after a joint committee of Florida's two medical boards moved a step closer to adopting a draft rule backed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis that would ban doctors from providing gender-affirming healthcare to transgender youth.
"The hearing was stacked against trans youth from the start."
After five often heated hours of testimony, a joint committee of the Florida Board of Medicine and the Florida Board of Osteopathic Medicine voted in favor of a proposal to bar doctors in the state from prescribing puberty-blocking and hormone treatments for patients younger than 18.
The proposed rule would also prohibit gender-affirming surgery for minors, which experts noted rarely occurs. The proposal is scheduled to advance for a final vote by the full medical boards on November 4.
Some supporters of the proposed rule shared testimony of how they rushed into treatments—the most common of which, puberty blocking-medications, are reversible—and later regretted their decision, a phenomenon studies show affects less than 1% of people who transition. The state also relied upon the testimony of doctors including Dr. Michael Laidlaw, who falsely claimed that as many as 90% of trans youth de-transition.
While some proponents of the prospective ban made misleading and sometimes outright false claims, medical experts, trans youth, and their parents and loved ones testified about the critical importance of gender-affirming care.
"I am 15 years old. I knew with certainty that I am trans when I was 10 years old. When I first came out, everyone rejected me and told me it was a phase," said Yuri Tversky in written testimony. "Five years later, it is not a phase. When I was 10 years old, I was suicidal, and would self-harm because nobody believed me and I knew I couldn't keep going through the wrong puberty and wait eight years before I could transition."
I became secretive, and would lie to my parents about anything related to my trans identity as to hide it from them. Because when I had told them at age 10, they didn't believe me.
Last year, right before I turned 15, I came out to them again. And they were more accepting. At that point, I had wanted to start transitioning for five years. After telling them I want to try and start, they hesitantly accepted it and we tried to start the process of getting testosterone.
It took me six months to get testosterone. It is not easy. No matter what your propaganda says, I had to fight every step of the way and be denied every step of the way until finally, after four different professionals, I was given my prescription.
"Going on testosterone is the single best decision I have ever made in my life and that is not an exaggeration," Tversky added. "I am no longer suicidal. I can finally acknowledge and embrace the fact that I have a future, and a family that loves and accepts me for who I am. I don't have to pretend to be someone else anymore. Until now. Until you."
In written testimony against the proposed rule, American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) president Dr. Moira Szilaygi noted:
Bullying, discrimination, harassment, and a lack of social acceptance are issues adolescents with gender dysphoria deal with on a daily basis and all these issues lead to increased risks of suicide and other mental health conditions...
By proposing an alternative standard of care, Florida is ignoring the broad consensus among the medical community and the weight of peer-reviewed medical literature. We call on the Florida Board of Medicine to reject the call for the development of new standards of care and ensure that the existing evidence-based standards of care are allowed to be used to care for children and adolescents with gender dysphoria. Only by doing so will the health and well-being of children and adolescents with gender dysphoria in Florida be preserved.
Accredited medical groups—including the AAP, American Medical Association, and the American Psychological Association—support gender-affirming care for transgender minors.
Public commentary was overwhelmingly against the proposed ban.
"Gender-affirming care saved my life at 16. Please do not take this vital care away from other young people like me," Aaron Demlow pleaded.
"Going on testosterone is the single best decision I have ever made in my life... I am no longer suicidal... I don't have to pretend to be someone else anymore. Until now. Until you."
"I am a retired social worker who did counsel a transgender youth," said Susan Nasrani. "Having access to gender-affirming medical care kept this young person from deep depression and suicide."
"Doctors took an oath to help, not hinder a person. Who a person is is none of your business," contended Kathy Stomber.
"Actual medical providers understand the real need for this care," asserted Liza Brazzle. "Don't let bigotry get in the way of doing what's best for patients."
"Do not take away transgender Floridians' right to healthcare away from them," implored Steven Rocha. "Their blood will be on your hands if you do."
Numerous observers accused the board of bias.
"The hearing was stacked against trans youth from the start," tweeted legal expert Alejandra Caraballo.
"Despite local families and activists getting there first, nine anti-trans folks testified first," she noted. "After selectively filtering to give a 50/50 split after, the board closed the hearing early, leaving many to not speak."
Trans rights defender Erin Reed decried what she called a "sham hearing with fake experts," noting along with other observers that the committee "relied on a report done in part by a dentist to ban gender-affirming care."
The effort to ban gender-affirming healthcare for trans youth is the latest salvo in what some critics call a war on LGBTQ+ people being waged by DeSantis, who is also accused of playing to his far-right supporters' prejudice and fears ahead of an anticipated 2024 presidential run.
Earlier this month, a federal judge let stand a Florida rule prohibiting the state Medicaid program from reimbursing patients for most types of gender-affirming care.
In March, DeSantis signed into law so-called "Don't Say Gay or Trans" legislation, which effectively prohibits educators from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in primary grades or, nebulously, at any level "in a manner that is not age-appropriate."
Friday's Florida committee vote also came as legislatures and governors in Republican-controlled states continue to pass or propose dozens of laws eliminating or limiting the rights of LGBTQ+—and especially transgender—youth, including restroom and sports bans.
"Our votes do matter and can impact the future of LGBTQ+ rights in Florida," the progressive political action group People Power for Florida tweeted Saturday. "Make your plan to vote for people that align with your values and care about equality."