What Jeff Walker’s family needs right now is clarity.
The family of four in Auburn, Ala., is one of those affected by two bills targeting trans youths signed into law this month by Gov. Kay Ivey (R). One makes providing gender-affirming care to a minor a felony, and the other restricts trans children from using bathroom and locker facilities that align with their gender identities. It also bars any instruction in public schools that mentions gender or sexuality until the sixth grade.
Alabama lawmakers pass bills curbing rights of trans kids
The education bill, which would force Walker’s teenage daughter Harleigh to use the boy’s bathroom at her high school, won’t go into effect until the next school year. But the clock is ticking on the health-care bill, which could be enforced as soon as May 8 if legal challenges don’t block it.
To prepare, they’ve been talking to clinics in neighboring states to see if and how Harleigh can continue receiving gender-affirming care; they’ve learned the closest and safest place to access care is Georgia, Walker said. Moving would be the worst-case scenario, he added: “We can’t just pick up and go.”
There’s a mortgage to consider, as well as his 19-year-old son, who started college this semester and is serving in the Alabama National Guard.
“If we decide we have to split, one parent has to stay behind and make sure his needs are met,” said Walker, whose son lives at home. “You’re breaking up a family.”
So the Walkers are keeping their eyes on the news and continuing to weigh their options as the May 8 deadline creeps closer. For his and other families, the shock of the bills passing in the first place has not worn off: “I think everybody’s kind of in the same boat: What do we do? What is next and what’s right for them?”
LGBTQ and civil rights groups have called the new laws unconstitutional, and two lawsuits were filed against the bills soon after Ivey signed them. On Saturday, both were voluntarily dismissed, meaning the plaintiffs agreed to drop the challenges — though the plan is to refile imminently, attorneys say.
In a statement shared with The Washington Post, Alabama state Rep. Wes Allen (R), one of the champions of the health-care ban, accused the groups of trying to “judge-shop” — refile in a district where the judge may be more likely to rule against the law.
“This legislation was passed by the Alabama House and Senate after three years of debates and public hearings,” Allen said. “We heard from doctors who support this legislation.”
Allen compared the health-care law to others that ban minors from drinking alcohol or vaping.
“This legislation is about protecting children from making decisions as children that their brains are not yet developed enough to understand,” he said. “Just as we do not allow children, even with parental permission, to drink alcohol or vape, we passed this legislation to protect children.”
FAQ: What you need to know about transgender children
Upon signing the legislation, called the Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act, Ivey said in a statement: “I believe very strongly that if the Good Lord made you a boy, you are a boy, and if he made you a girl, you are a girl.”
“We should especially protect our children from these radical, life-altering drugs and surgeries when they are at such a vulnerable stage in life,” she continued. (Puberty blockers are reversible, and doctors say no gender-affirming surgeries are performed on minors in Alabama.)
Many recent state bills have targeted the same issues: gender-affirming care for trans minors, discussion of LGBTQ topics in schools and trans youths’ participation in sports.
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Last month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a bill limiting the discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation for younger students. In Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey (R) signed two bills that would restrict gender-affirming care for transgender youths and prohibit them from playing on female sports teams. And in Missouri, five bills were introduced this session that would restrict the rights of trans people, including one that would penalize doctors who provide gender-affirming care for minors.
But Alabama’s laws go further than similar policies that have been enacted. Its classroom ban on discussing gender or sexuality extends from kindergarten through the fifth grade (Florida’s law applies from kindergarten through the third grade.) And its ban on gender-affirming care would make it illegal for minors getting treatments such as puberty blockers from continuing them — effectively de-transitioning these patients. Parents and providers found guilty of providing gender-affirming care would also face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.
Parents of trans children and physicians have noted minors cannot make decisions about transition care on their own. In Alabama, minors may receive puberty blockers, which delay puberty and are reversible, and hormone therapy. Gender-affirming surgeries are not performed on those younger than 18, doctors say. Prominent medical groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, had urged Ivey to veto the health-care ban. Many medical experts say gender-affirming care can save lives by reducing the risk of depression and suicide among trans youths.
Morissa Ladinsky, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a leader on its gender health team, said she has been trying to keep patients calm and informed about what the laws can and cannot do right now.
Because the health-care ban is not yet being enforced, Ladinsky and her team plan to continue providing care, she said.
Stopping a course of successful therapy without a medical reason would be a violation of the physicians’ pledge to not harm their patients, Ladinsky said. She estimated close to 200 patients are seeing her team to receive hormone therapy and puberty blockers.
Ladinsky, who was a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits that was recently dropped, also expects that once a challenge to the law is refiled, a judge will temporarily block the law as the challenge is considered.
“We’re still very hopeful and remain equally as optimistic as we did before, because this law is blatantly unconstitutional on several levels,” she said.
For now, she said, her patients’ families are relieved that they can continue receiving care as the deadline approaches — and that their doctors are fighting for them.
“We need to let the wheels of justice work for us,” she said. “Meanwhile, my stomach flip flops.”
But for some families of trans youths, the risk is too great to stay. In Alabama, as well as states such as Texas and Arkansas, which have moved to limit gender-affirming care for minors, some have turned to GoFundMe campaigns to help get them out.
Erin Reed, a trans advocate who has helped several families set up and publicize their donation drives, said families and individuals in states where health-care bans have passed need “significant on-ramps” to help them leave: money to fix their cars so they can travel, and rent and supplementary income in case they can’t work remotely.
Relying on online donation campaigns has clear drawbacks, she added: It requires Internet access, and a large following on social media, or attention from a prominent account, can be the difference between meeting a funding goal or coming up short.
But they have also been a way for trans communities and their allies to offer direct support to people impacted by anti-trans legislation: “Every single cent of what you’re going to spend is going to go a person who needs it the most,” Reed said.
Kim G., a 33-year-old former preschool teacher living in Mobile, Ala., is one of those people. After living in Mobile for six years, she and her husband were considering eventually moving back to Boston to be closer to their parents, she said. But after the state legislature passed its anti-trans laws, they decided they had to move immediately.
Kim, who is being identified by only her first name to protect her family’s safety, has two daughters: a 12-year-old and an 8-year old. For her 12-year-old trans daughter, an avid gamer who spends much of her spare time coding, Alabama had been a fresh start. She had socially transitioned before they had moved from Boston, so people knew her only as a girl.
“I think she really enjoyed that for a while,” Kim said.
But Kim began to feel dread as she watched state legislatures attempt to pass a wave of anti-LGBTQ bills last year. When Ivey signed the two recent bills, Kim moved quickly: She publicized a GoFundMe on Twitter that amassed tens of thousands of dollars in a few days — enough to fix their car, buy flights and begin the arduous process of boxing up their lives, she said. On Monday afternoon, she was surrounded by stacks of boxes in the living room — her kitchen all packed up, save for the dishes and utensils they needed to use daily.
The next month won’t be easy: Because the move is on such short notice, their family will need to stay with relatives in separate homes as they get their feet under them, Kim said.
Although a part of her wants to stay in Alabama and fight back against the new laws, Kim said moving feels like the best option for her family.
“I want [my daughter] to be able to live like every other person. I want her to be able to have access to the health care she needs, no one to shame her and no one to make her question who she is,” she said. “I don’t want her being trans to be the sole focus of who she is.”
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Families of trans kids in Alabama prepare for health-care ban – The Washington Post
What Jeff Walker’s family needs right now is clarity.