This past month, lawmakers in Ohio have introduced a discriminatory bill prohibiting gender affirming care and requiring mental health professionals to make yearly reports on gender-related diagnoses and treatments for trans minors. Similar bills have appeared across the nation.
Ohio House Bill 68 seeks to ban gender affirming care such as puberty blockers and gender reassignment surgery, including aesthetic procedures such as mastectomies, along with limiting mental health services in relation to gender identity for people under 18-years of age.
If the bill is passed, practitioners and facilities that knowingly perform gender-affirming care will be subject to discipline by the applicable professional licensing board and may have civil action taken against them. Medical professionals may also be disciplined for assisting in obtaining out-of-state gender affirming care for patients under 18.
In addition, Ohio House Bill 68 requires mental health professionals to report yearly the number of, the biological sex of, and the age of minors diagnosed or treated for a gender-related condition to the department of health along with the number of minors who resumed identification with their biological sex and more.
Under OHB68, gender transition services would be prohibited to be covered by Medicaid insurance.
In custody cases, courts would also be prohibited from considering a parent’s refusal to accept a child’s gender identity that does not align with their biological sex. This includes misgendering, withholding access to counseling for the child, and declining gender affirming care.
Gender-affirming services are considered life saving for youth dealing with gender dysphoria – a feeling of discomfort and distress when one’s gender identity does not align with their biological sex.
Trans youth may face trauma and more severe gender dysphoria when going through puberty, as they develop unwanted body changes that do not align with their gender identity. For example, transmasculine youth, whose biological sex is female but identify as male, may experience considerable distress when developing breasts.
Puberty blockers, or hormone blockers, are medications that pause puberty and are reversible if necessary. Access to puberty blockers helps minimize unnecessary trauma in trans youth and allows them to make decisions about their own body.
Lawmakers are calling OHB68 the Ohio Saving Adolescents from Experimentation or SAFE act.
In a press conference on Feb. 22 Gary Click, OHB68 sponsor, stated “We are trying to establish the highest standards of care for young people who identify as transgender”.
OHB68 reads: “suicide rates, psychiatric morbidities, and mortality rates remain markedly elevated above the background population after inpatient gender reassignment surgery has been performed,”
However, studies conclude that access to gender affirming care, including gender reassignment surgery, can decrease thoughts of suicide and improve mental health outcomes. Additionally, transgender minors are less likely to experience mental health issues when they have access to and receive gender-affirming healthcare.
Ohio is just one of at least 21 other states considering anti-trans healthcare bills, not including the six states that have already banned gender-affirming care for minors. Republican lawmakers are leading the charge in creating these bills.
Sponsors of Ohio House Bill 68 include Gary Click, Rodney Creech, Jay Edwards, and various other Ohio Republican lawmakers.
Dr. Alann Weissman-Ward, Medical Director for Plume, stated that these bills form from a deep misunderstanding of the care trans minors may receive when experiencing gender dysphoria and can cause serious distress. This includes harmful rhetoric that doesn’t correctly illustrate what gender affirming care entails for trans youth.
According to the Standards of Care for the Health of Transsexual, Transgender, and Gender Nonconforming People, adolescents must “demonstrate a long-lasting and intense pattern of gender nonconformity or gender dysphoria” before being eligible to receive puberty blockers. Additionally, it states “before any physical interventions are considered for adolescents, extensive exploration of psychological, family, and social issues should be undertaken”
As these bills increase across the country, doctors, psychiatrists, and medical professionals warn that a mental health emergency for trans youth is likely.
“As you are removing access to medical care, you’re essentially saying ‘we are okay with having these kids be at increased risk for suicide and self-harm and depression and anxiety,’” Weissman-Ward, said in a statement.
Studies have shown trans youth who do not have access to gender affirming care experience higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide than those with access to supportive care.
According to the 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health,”LGBTQ youth who lived in an accepting community, had access to LGBTQ-affirming spaces, and/or felt high social support from family and friends reported significantly lower rates of attempting suicide in the past year.”
Currently, OHB68 is in the Public Health Policy House Committee. A hearing has not yet been had for the bill.
A similar bill was introduced last year, Ohio House Bill 454 but died when it reached the Families and Aging Committee.
“Ohio’s youth, young adults, and their families deserve more. They deserve better from the adults and leaders put into positions of power in interest of supporting and protecting their inalienable rights,” Erin Upchurch (she/her), Kaleidoscope Youth Center executive director, said in a statement “Legislation and policies such as House Bill 68 do nothing to protect any child or young person; instead, only further marginalize. This is bullying behavior.”