COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – A teen visitor to the Kaleidoscope Youth Center’s LGBTQ+ drop-in hours skipped the pleasantries in a scathing letter addressed to Ohio lawmakers – signing their name “with distaste.”
As state legislators prepare for a second hearing Thursday on a bill that would ban various medical procedures for transgender or non-binary minors in Ohio, queer youth who frequent the LGBTQ+ center Downtown poured their dissent into written testimony.
“This law won’t stop people from being transgender; it only takes away resources for folks to live their best lives,” Erin Upchurch, executive director of Kaleidoscope Youth Center, said while reading a teen’s letter.
“And this one that really just kind of hit home for me, you know, saying that it would take away their lifeline,” she said while reading another teen’s testimony.
Under House Bill 454, the Save Adolescents From Experimentation (SAFE) Act, health care professionals are barred from providing gender-affirming treatment – like hormone replacement therapy, reconstructive surgery or puberty blockers – to trans and gender non-conforming kids in Ohio.
If the SAFE Act becomes law, medical professionals who provide gender transition procedures to a minor could be disciplined by a licensing board.
Proponents of the bill, sponsored by Rep. Gary Click (R-Vickery) and Rep. Diane Grendell (R-Chesterland), assert that Ohioans under the age of 18 are too young to make health decisions that could permanently alter their bodies.
“Gender affirmation therapy does not affirm an individual’s gender but rather affirms their dysphoria, kicking the can down the road and leaving grave consequences to be dealt with later,” Click wrote in his testimony before fellow lawmakers in February.
One in 137 American teens identifies as transgender, according to the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association. Gender-affirming care is rendered on a case-by-case basis – with the consent of the minor and their parents – by a medical professional to help those youth align their physical traits with their gender identity.
While puberty blockers and hormone therapies can be used during puberty and in early adolescence, gender-affirming surgical interventions are typically reserved for adulthood, according to the Office of Population Affairs under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“Minors may not vote, hold office, marry, buy or possess firearms, or even play bingo,” Click wrote in his testimony. “If a child cannot donate blood or play bingo in Ohio, is it reasonable to allow them to consent to medicalized treatment that leads to sterilization and other long term health risks?”
When asked to comment on the legislation, Grendell’s office redirected an NBC4 reporter to Click, as he is tasked with answering media inquiries about HB 454. Click’s office, however, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Instead of rushing to medical treatment, some of which Click said constitutes child abuse, advocates of HB 454 called for “watchful waiting” to delay gender-affirming care until a child is more mature to reach a decision about their health.
David Mahan, policy director for the Columbus-based Center for Christian Virtue, pointed to a study performed in Sweden from 1973 to 2003 that found people who underwent gender reconstructive surgery were about 19 times more likely to die of suicide than the general population.
“These procedures are not showing long-term benefits or really dealing with the root causes,” Mahan said. “It can sound unloving, but the question is, ‘Is it experimental?’ And the answer is yes – these are very experimental procedures.”
But the consensus among medical providers – including Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the American Academy of Pediatrics – is that gender-affirming care is an evidence-based practice with a proven track record of improving health outcomes for trans and non-binary youth.
Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association called HB 454 a “misguided effort” that could exacerbate harm to LGBTQ+ youth by denying healthcare to a population that’s already more susceptible to mental health disorders.
“Ohio is fortunate to have world class institutions providing the best practice, evidence-based care for both children’s and adolescent’s physical and mental health,” the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association said in a statement. “Our mission for families of transgender youth is no different.”
Youth who identify as LGBTQ+ are more than four times as likely as their peers to attempt suicide, with more than 1.8 million LGBTQ+ youth seriously considering suicide each year in the U.S., according to The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ people.
LGBTQ+ youth who reported high levels of parental rejection are eight times more likely to attempt suicide than those whose parents are accepting of their sexuality, according to the Trevor Project.
Healthcare decisions, Upchurch said, should ultimately be left in the hands of medical professionals and their patients – not “alarmist, fear-mongering” politicians who have no medical or mental health experience, she said.
“If we take away something from young folks that is their lifeline, if you will, that affirms who they are, that helps them get closer to wellness, that’s a big way of telling them, ‘We just don’t care,’” she said.
The Trevor Project’s 24/7 crisis hotline can be reached by phone at 1-866-488-7386 or by texting “START” to 678-678.