Parents raise concerns as Florida bans gender-affirming care for trans kids
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
Several states are moving to ban gender-affirming medical care, such as puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones, for transgender minors. Among the latest is Florida, the only state to impose such a ban by a vote of its medical boards.
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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Trans lives matter. Trans lives matter. Trans lives matter.
FADEL: At a public meeting this month in Tallahassee, those board members were bombarded with chants of trans lives matter and shame from the audience. NPR's Melissa Block went to Florida to ask families and medical providers how the new rules will affect them.
MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: Liz is 13, a seventh grader who lives in Gainesville. Her full name legally changed last summer...
LIZ BOSTOCK: Elizabeth Isabella Bostock.
BLOCK: She's petite with glasses and long, sandy-blond hair. Her bedroom is filled with stuffed animals.
LIZ: A hundred twenty-ish.
BLOCK: She loves theater and manga and anime video games.
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UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, non-English language spoken).
BLOCK: Liz came out as nonbinary at age 11 and then as transgender after she turned 12. Her parents took her to a clinical psychologist, and she was given a formal diagnosis of gender dysphoria. Liz started seeing a medical team at a pediatric gender clinic. And last August, she started getting puberty blockers. She gets a shot every three months that essentially presses the pause button on male puberty. The goal for now is to keep her body from developing further in ways that don't align with her gender identity.
VIRGINIA HAMNER: It's been amazing.
BLOCK: That's Liz's mom, Virginia Hamner, who says, with gender-affirming care, she's seen her daughter light up.
HAMNER: It's fun and exciting for her to be able to be exactly who she wants to be.
BLOCK: But as for the future, well, that's cloudy. Under Florida's new rules that prohibit gender-affirming care for minors, new patients are banned entirely. For patients like Liz, who have started treatment, they are allowed to continue with what they have now. But it's not clear whether they can move on later to cross-sex hormones, for example. The rules' language is vague. For Liz, the fear of what's to come could mean a future outside Florida.
LIZ: If it gets too bad, I'm also already thinking about for high school going to a boarding school that isn't in Florida, which would honestly make things a lot easier.
BLOCK: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has targeted LGBTQ rights and has made parental rights a running theme as he eyes a potential White House bid. The irony, says Virginia Hamner, is that her parental rights are being trampled.
HAMNER: It's a gut punch. It's so frustrating to hear the rhetoric of parental rights be used to say kids shouldn't have access to treatment because we need to let them be kids when it's like, you're right. And guess what? That's all I want for my kid.
BLOCK: Dozens of the country's leading medical groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association, endorse gender-affirming care as time-tested and medically necessary. But Florida's surgeon general, appointed by Governor DeSantis, calls it highly experimental, unproven and risky. A member of the state board of medicine said that by banning gender-affirming care, they were acting to protect children from irreversible harm. Pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Kristin Dayton strongly disputes those claims.
KRISTIN DAYTON: There is tons of evidence to back my assertion that this is safe and healthy for children.
BLOCK: Dayton runs the Youth Gender Program at the University of Florida. And she worries about her patients, many of whom haven't yet started on blockers or hormones and now won't be able to.
DAYTON: People are feeling incredibly panicked and sad and distressed and coming to our office saying, what are we going to do when this passes? And frankly, we don't have the answers.
BLOCK: The new rules haven't taken effect yet, but providers and advocates say they've already had a chilling impact. Several gender clinics in Florida have shut down. Under the new rule, violators could lose their medical license and face steep fines. Here's what a Tallahassee mom named Sandi heard from her transgender son's doctor, who explained that he will not prescribe anything beyond the son's current puberty blockers.
SANDI: One thing he has said several times is, I don't want to go to jail.
BLOCK: And to be clear, jail time is not a penalty under Florida's new rules. But many fear sanctions could be toughened, a fear that's shared by some families, which is why we agreed to use only Sandi's first name.
SANDI: There is just, you know, fear of not knowing what's coming in the future and how transgender families will be retaliated against.
BLOCK: Just look at Texas, she says, where the state has investigated parents of trans kids for child abuse. Her son, River - that's his middle name - he's not out yet to all of their extended family - River started saying he was a boy and presenting as a boy when he was about 3. Now he's in seventh grade.
RIVER: I am 12, almost 13.
BLOCK: He loves rock climbing and math and fishing.
RIVER: I prefer, like, freshwater fishing.
BLOCK: And he's a whiz with a Rubik's puzzle.
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BLOCK: Sandi says she's seen River flourish since he started on blockers, but she worries about what she calls the constant invalidation of who he is.
SANDI: There are some days that you look at everything going on and you are just paralyzed by fear of what's coming at your kid next. But you can't show that to your beautiful, wonderful trans kid. And it's exhausting, you know? It's so exhausting.
BLOCK: Sandi's on regular calls with other trans families, many of whom are planning what she calls escape routes, planning to move out of Florida to a more trans friendly state. She and her husband think about it, too. Maybe Oregon?
SANDI: The fact that you have to consider rehoming your family to have access to health care in the United States in 2023 is ridiculous. I just want my kid to be happy and healthy. And I just don't think that's a lot to ask.
BLOCK: Trans advocates have vowed to fight Florida's new rules in court. Simone Chriss with Southern Legal Counsel is keeping a close eye on states that want to ban gender-affirming care not just for minors, but for adults, too.
SIMONE CHRISS: I don't think that this is going to slow down. I think that more and more states are going to ban likely first for minors and then, you know, try to move on to adults, which is why I think it's so critical that we stop them here in Florida.
BLOCK: This work can be soul crushing, she says, adding It's hard not to feel like we're losing on a daily basis. All we can do, she says, is keep fighting.
Melissa Block, NPR News, Gainesville.
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