Florida Guts Trans Rights : Consider This from NPR At least fourteen states in the US have passed laws or policies that limit or restrict gender-affirming care for young people. Republican lawmakers claim the bills are meant to protect kids, but most medical groups say the treatment is safe, effective and potentially live-saving.

Even so, Republican leaders like Texas governor Greg Abbot compare gender-affirming care to child abuse. Meanwhile trans people, parents, and their supporters have protested outside of Republican controlled statehouses across the country.

Florida has targeted gender-affirming care more than most other states. And on Wednesday, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis signed the latest such bill into law. It's gotten to the point where some trans youth are leaving the state, rather than living under the ban.

With reporting from WUFS's Stephanie Columbini and WFSU's Regan McCarthy.

Florida Guts Trans Rights

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It's become a dominant trend in red states - Republican leaders passing laws that limit or ban gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth.


WENDY RYAN: Florida is poised to ban gender dysphoria treatments for all minors.

BRIAN HOLMES: Beginning next year, Idaho doctors could go to prison for up to 10 years.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: And in Arkansas, legislators there just passed their own bill, making it easier to sue doctors.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Montana has joined more than a dozen states that are banning gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors.

SHAPIRO: At least 14 states in the U.S. have passed laws or policies that limit or restrict gender-affirming care for young people. And the fervor around this has only grown, according to NPR's Melissa Block, who's been tracking it.

MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: I spoke with a lawyer in Florida who fights these bills, and she compared it to a game of whack-a-mole. This year alone, we've seen about 83 bills related to gender-affirming care introduced all around the country.

SHAPIRO: Doctors appointed by the governor to state boards call such treatment risky and experimental.

BLOCK: That does go against the consensus from dozens of major U.S. medical groups. They say these treatments are time-tested, effective and potentially lifesaving.

SHAPIRO: Even so, Republican leaders like Texas Governor Greg Abbott compare gender-affirming care to child abuse. Meanwhile, trans people, parents and their supporters have protested outside of Republican-controlled statehouses across the country.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Trans rights are human rights.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Trans rights are human rights.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Trans rights are human rights.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Trans rights are human rights.

SHAPIRO: CONSIDER THIS - what do you do when your home state blocks you from accessing care that allows you to live life on your own terms?


SHAPIRO: From NPR, I'm Ari Shapiro. It's Wednesday, May 17.

It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. Florida has targeted gender-affirming care more than most other states. On Wednesday, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis signed the latest such bill into law. It bans gender-affirming medical care, like puberty blockers and hormone therapy, for minors.


RON DESANTIS: I think this is something that - we've just made the decision as a state, and me as governor, to just say, you know, we're protecting kids.

SHAPIRO: Again, there is wide consensus among medical groups that gender-affirming care is safe, effective and potentially lifesaving. Even before that ban was signed into law, some of Florida's transgender youth were considering whether they might have to leave the state for care.

Stephanie Colombini of member station WUSF spoke to a trans teenager who decided to flee Florida in the middle of the school year to start a new life more than a thousand miles from home.


STEPHANIE COLOMBINI, BYLINE: Josie's (ph) 16. She's at home in St. Augustine, sifting through her bedroom closet with her mom, Sarah (ph).

SARAH: Remember this dress? When's the last time you wore it?

JOSIE: Homecoming.

SARAH: High school homecoming.

JOSIE: Winter homecoming.

COLOMBINI: Dresses, cardigans, overalls - each bring back a memory.

SARAH: Oh, my God. This was one of my favorite dresses.

COLOMBINI: There were a lot of good memories, like school dances and family vacations. But Josie says the good times have felt scarce, as Florida has become increasingly unwelcoming to transgender people. She and her parents asked to go by their first names only out of fear of retaliation. Josie was packing up her closet because she was moving to Rhode Island in a few days. Her aunt and uncle live outside Providence. Her dog, Reesie (ph), pushed around the suitcase to snuggle up to her.

JOSIE: She has, like, a sense when I'm sad, and then she just, like, comes running in.

COLOMBINI: Josie didn't want to go, but she feels like she can't live in Florida anymore. The state is one of more than a dozen that have passed bans on gender-affirming medical care for minors, and Josie didn't know if she'd lose access to the hormone she takes to help her body align with her identity.

JOSIE: I felt pretty scared.

BLOCK: The ban started in March. Florida's medical board said the treatments were too experimental for minors. Kids like Josie, who'd already started care, could continue, but she didn't trust that would last. In fact, the legislature even considered forcing all trans youth to stop treatment by the end of the year.

JOSIE: I thought that they would realize what they've done wrong and, you know, repeal some things, but they just kept going. It just became, like, too real, too fast.

BLOCK: In the end, lawmakers let kids like Josie stay in treatment. But she was already convinced Florida just wasn't a safe place for her. School has been challenging at times since Josie came out as trans in eighth grade. Some childhood friends rejected her. She wanted to play on the girls' tennis team, but a recent Florida law forbid it. And it was painful when Florida teachers had to start watching what they said about LGBTQ issues.

JOSIE: They were required to take down, like, little stickers on doors that said that it was a safe space, which is just ridiculous. You want your students to be comfortable and safe.

BLOCK: The new laws and anti-trans rhetoric are hurting kids across Florida, says psychologist Jennifer Evans. She works at the University of Florida's Gender Clinic in Gainesville.

JENNIFER EVANS: I'm seeing a lot more anxiety, depression. Things I hear patients say are, the government doesn't want me to exist. They don't feel safe.

BLOCK: Evans points to the many states passing all sorts of bills that target trans individuals - not just their medical care, but what schools can teach or what bathrooms you can use. Evans identifies as queer herself. She says a bill doesn't even have to pass for it to cause harm.

EVANS: It's a lot to feel like enough people in this country don't agree with your existence, which actually isn't affecting them. It's painful to see that.

BLOCK: Evans says, at her clinic, four families have already moved out of Florida, while another 10 plan to leave this year. Some older teens she treats are also planning to get out when they turn 18.

But moving isn't easy. Josie's dad, Eric (ph), says, like many families, they had a lot at stake.

ERIC: You know, just financially, it's difficult to uproot what we've set up.

BLOCK: They've owned their home in St. Augustine for a long time, and Eric recently started a new job. Josie's mom, Sarah, works at a private college, with a benefit that allows Josie and her older sister to get reduced tuition at some colleges around the country. So her parents decided that, at least for now, Josie would go live with her aunt and uncle, and they would stay behind. Sarah says it was a devastating call to make.

SARAH: It was just terror in my heart. Like, you could just feel that cold burst in my chest and going all throughout my body. Like, Josie's part of everything I do.

BLOCK: Josie will finish her sophomore year up north. She says she'll miss her parents' hugs and her friends. Before she left, she had a going-away party.


SILENTO: (Rapping) Now watch me whip. Now watch me nae nae (ph). OK.

BLOCK: The teens played a dance video game. Sarah brought out Black Forest cake.

SARAH: What does it say in the bottom, Josie?

JOSIE: It says, we love you, Josie. Thank you.

BLOCK: A few days after that party, Josie and her mom flew north to get Josie settled. Sarah said it was really hard to leave her daughter in Rhode Island.

SARAH: I was a mess. I cried the whole way to the airport. I just felt I was going the wrong way.

BLOCK: She's still adjusting to life without Josie at home, but they talk every day. Josie says her aunt and uncle have been really great. Her new high school is a little smaller than her old one and in a more liberal area. So far, it's been pretty good.

JOSIE: In my first week, I had a streak of making at least one friend per day. Like, in one day I made four.

BLOCK: Josie loves that the school has pride flags in the halls and its own gender and sexuality alliance club.

JOSIE: It was just such, like, a shock to me - like, not a bad shock, but, like, just shocked that this is how schools can be. It's just that Florida is choosing not to be like that.

BLOCK: We reached out to Governor Ron DeSantis' office several times to respond to families' concerns, but haven't heard back. Josie's parents say they'll keep their pride flag waving in the front yard and advocate for other trans kids while she's away. Josie says she still thinks about those who can't leave. But right now, she needs to move on.


SHAPIRO: Stephanie Colombini of member station WUSF in Tampa - this story came from NPR's partnership with WUSF and KFF Health News.


SHAPIRO: While the majority of laws banning gender-affirming care focus on trans youth, limitations for adults frequently follow. Republicans in Florida are considering such regulations right now, and recent college graduate Kaleb Hobson-Garcia could be affected by them.

KALEB HOBSON-GARCIA: I only ever felt connection to the idea of being a boy.

SHAPIRO: Hobson-Garcia started hormone therapy at 14. Now he's 21, so he won't be affected by Florida's laws geared towards children, but several Republican states are pushing for limits on care for adults, too. The law that now bans gender-affirming care for youth in Florida also makes it harder for Hobson-Garcia, an adult, to receive care. Now, a doctor must provide treatment in person before nurse practitioners and physician assistants could do it. And under the new law, state health insurance plans and Medicaid can't cover the cost of coverage. Hobson-Garcia injects himself with testosterone every two weeks. Without insurance, he estimates a monthly supply would cost him up to $160. And if he can't afford that...

HOBSON-GARCIA: I could start menstruating regularly again. That is not something that I've done since I started blockers, and that is something that would be incredibly dysphoric for myself and I'm sure for the thousands of other trans people that exist in the state of Florida.

SHAPIRO: Hobson-Garcia says, instead of applying for jobs in his field, science, he's now looking for work in grassroots organizing and advocacy for trans rights. That was reporting from WFSU's Regan McCarthy.




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