By Sabrina Bates
MVP Regional News Editor
A measure blocking health procedures for transgender youth is awaiting a signature by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee after the proposed bill moved quickly last week through the House of Representatives of the 113th General Assembly.
The proposal was the first bill filed for this legislative session. HB and SB 1 bans medical procedures, medications and surgeries for youth living with gender dysphoria. Doctors in Tennessee would be prohibited to provide any health care to minors “to identify with, or live as, a purported identity inconsistent with the minor’s biological sex.”
House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland) sponsored the House version of the bill. “Love these children, support these children. Get them through adolescence, just get them to 18,” Lamberth has noted. “And then they can make whatever decision that they want to.”
“The weight of these decisions is too heavy for children. As a society, we understand that minors need limitations, so we place many age-restrictions on activities for children that can have lifelong consequences such as smoking, drinking alcohol, buying lottery tickets and even getting tattoos,” Senate bill sponsor Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) said last week. “It is reasonable to also put age-restrictions on these transformational elective medical procedures.”
Johnson filed $86,500 in campaign donations from the health sector in his re-election bid in 2022. Lamberth reported $34,350 in donations from that sector during his campaign for re-election.
Under the measure, people who received the treatments as minors would also be able to sue parents, guardians and physicians for authorizing the care under a statute of limitations under the legislation.
Last fall, Lee made public statements concerning Vanderbilt University Medical Center and its pediatric transgender clinic. He said the clinic raised “serious moral, ethical and legal concerns.”
Vanderbilt started its gender-affirming care program in 2018. In a letter from VUMC’s Deputy CEO and Chief Health System Officer Dr. C. Wright Pinson to Tennessee Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville) in October 2022, Vanderbilt announced a pause on gender-affirming care while awaiting international guidelines.
“Contrary to some media reports, all (patients) were at least 16 years of age, none have received genital procedures and parental consent to these surgeries was obtained in all cases,” VUMC’s letter to Zachary states. “None of these surgeries have been paid for by state or federal funds; the revenues from this limited number of surgeries represent an immaterial percentage of VUMC’s net operating revenue.”
An amendment to the proposed bills blocks youth from receiving health care via telehealth. A provision that would charge parents with criminal child abuse if they sought such treatment for their children was eliminated from the proposed legislation.
The American Civil Liberties Union plans to sue Tennessee if Lee signs it into law.
“All Tennesseans should have access to the health care they need to survive and thrive,” Lucas Cameron-Vaughn, ACLU-TN staff attorney, said in a statement. “Gender-affirming healthcare for trans youth is safe, necessary, effective and often life-saving. Legislators are risking trans young people’s health, wellbeing and safety with this dangerous legislation.”
“There has been an explosion of cruel anti-LGBTQ bills throughout the country, and Tennessee is a major hotspot for this dangerous legislation — specifically regarding trans and nonbinary youth,” ACLU-TN transgender justice advocate Henry Seaton said in a statement.
If it becomes law, the bill would officially take effect this summer and give existing patients until March 31, 2024, to cease treatment.
The American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have reportedly supported gender transition health care as evidence-based medicine.
Lee has 10 days, excluding Sundays, to sign the bill into law. If he opts not to sign it, it will become law unless he vetoes it.