OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Republican attacks on gender affirming medical care for young people continued Wednesday in several conservative states that are among more than two dozen considering similar bans nationwide.
Lawmakers in Nebraska, Oklahoma and South Dakota considered bills Wednesday that would prohibit gender affirming treatments, like the use of puberty-blocking drugs and hormones, despite the endorsement of such treatments by major medical associations. Those measures passed legislative committees in Oklahoma and South Dakota, and also are expected to advance in conservative Nebraska, which has a nonpartisan Legislature.
In Utah, the Republican governor recently signed a ban into law, and judges have temporarily blocked similar laws in Arkansas and Alabama.
"We're going to do what we can to help children and families, allow the child to reach a certain level of maturity, where they then, on their own or in consultation with their parents, will make these decisions," said state Sen. Julie Daniels, a Republican who wrote Oklahoma's bill and said she would personally prefer to ban such care for anyone under age 21.
In Nebraska, hundreds of people descended on the state Capitol in Lincoln Wednesday to protest a measure that would prohibit gender affirming medical procedures for those 19 and younger by putting medical professionals in danger of losing their license and facing civil liability.
"This bill is insulting. It is dehumanizing. It is wrong," said Omaha Sen. John Frederickson, the first openly gay man to be elected to the Nebraska Legislature, who spoke before the crowd to denounce the bill, saying its genesis is "hypocrisy and hatred."
The bill's main sponsor, Sen. Kathleen Kauth of Omaha, defended it before the Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee as a way to protect children from "radical, experimental and dangerous procedures." Several people she invited to the hearing testified to either regretting efforts at transitioning or relief at being stopped from transitioning while they were teens.
The Oklahoma bill carries hefty penalties for medical professionals who violate the ban, including potential felony charges that carry up to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine, as well as civil liability and a loss of a doctor's medical license. Oklahoma's Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt urged lawmakers to send him such a bill during his State of the State address on Monday, receiving a standing ovation from GOP lawmakers when he did so, as more than 100 trans-rights activists packed the rotunda chanting "trans lives matter."
"I think Oklahoma is currently positioning itself to be the most dangerous state for trans people in the country," said Nicole McAfee, director of the LGBTQ rights organization Freedom Oklahoma. "What we just saw … is essentially a de facto ban on best-practice medical care for transgender people of all ages."
Oklahoma's Senate Rules Committee also passed a "companion bill" that would prevent the use of any public funds to entities or organizations that provide such care, even to adults.
Transgender people, especially those who are school-aged, have increasingly been targeted by lawmakers in GOP states with laws that prohibit them from playing on sports teams or using bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity.
In Montana, more than two dozen Republican lawmakers are co-sponsoring a bill that would allow students to misgender and dead name their transgender peers without punishment, a move that some argue would further the bullying of kids already struggling for acceptance.
South Dakota has seen proposals to ban gender affirming medical treatment in recent years, but the focus this year on treatment for children is what's furthered it. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who signed a bill last year preventing trans girls and college-aged women from playing on sports teams that correspond with their gender identity, added her stamp of approval to Rep. Bethany Soye's ban that has now passed through three hearings.
"All that we are asking for here is a little more time to make a permanent life decision," Soye told the committee on Wednesday.
South Dakota medical providers said the state lacks the medical expertise to provide gender affirming care to minors as is, but questioned the validity of testimony's scientific data. They said they were out of touch with today's gender affirming care practices.
"It's disappointing that they didn't listen to reasonable medical opinions and that they continue to push to intrude into the patient-physician relationship and take away rights of the parents of their child," Dr. Daniel Heinemann said.
Amancai Biraben in Pierre, South Dakota, and Margery Beck in Omaha, Nebraska, contributed to this report.