Bill that would affect health of Utah’s transgender youth stalls in state Legislature

A committee voted Friday not to advance Rep. Rex Shipp’s bill, HB92.

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo via AP) Members of the House of Representatives are partitioned by plexiglass as the Utah State Legislature opens the 2021 legislative session at the Capitol in Salt Lake City, Jan. 19, 2021. A bill that would affect the health of transgender youth in Utah stalled in committee Friday, Feb. 19, 2021.

As a bill that would ban girls from female sports in K-12 schools winds its way through the Legislature this session, a Utah House committee considered a second bill Friday that would affect transgender youth.

The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Rex Shipp, R-Cedar City, would make it “unprofessional conduct to perform a medically unnecessary puberty inhibition procedure or a sex characteristic-altering procedure” on a person 16 and younger in Utah.

But after hearing debate on the bill, the House Health and Human Services Committee voted 10-3 to send HB92 back to the House Rules Committee, a place sometimes regarded as a holding cell for legislation not ready for prime time.

Shipp opposed the move, arguing that his bill is “about protecting children.” He and bill supporters referred to people who later regretted taking puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones, some of whom spoke Friday. Shipp and others also argued that children were too young to make these life-altering decisions.

Opponents of the legislation called it “cruel” and “dangerous.” Candice Metzler, executive director of the Transgender Education Advocates of Utah, said it was “degrading and dehumanizing.”

“I have worked with gender diverse young people and their families for many years. It is a complicated situation, that there is no one-size-fits-all,” which Metzler said this bill is trying to do. “Each situation is different and should be treated that way,” according to Metzler.

During his monthly news conference Thursday, Gov. Spencer Cox said that the original version of Shipp’s bill had “many flaws,” but the latest iteration “is closer to what medical standards are now, and I think that that’s really important” and may be more acceptable to members of the LGBTQ community.

Cox said he has spoken with Equality Utah and others about this legislation. On Friday, Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, stressed the importance of including the transgender community when drafting bills. Williams pointed to the nondiscrimination protections for the gay and transgender community passed in 2015, which was accomplished by Utahns “working together.”

The governor also said he believes that the government should not get between doctors and patients; he doesn’t want to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations, for example, and he sees this issue through a similar lens. Opponents of HB92 bill made similar arguments Friday.

“Do you know what I have never once done in 20 years of doing this? I’ve never stepped out of a room and thought to call ... a legislator and say, ‘Tell me how to best take care of this kid.’ Because I trust ... national organizations and agencies. Because I trust my colleagues,” said Dr. Jennifer Plumb, a pediatrician and pediatric emergency medicine physician at the University of Utah and Primary Children’s Hospital.

Shipp supports “parental rights,” he said, but his concern is whether children are capable of making such a big decision at a young age.

“When I raised my kids, they couldn’t even decide sometimes what to wear to school the next day,” he said.

The discussion on the bill ranged from the reversibility of treatments outlined in the bill to current science to children’s risk of suicide.

Dr. Nicole Mihalopoulos, medical director of the gender management and support clinic at Primary Children’s Hospital, said the clinic follows guidelines from the World Professional Association for Transgender Health and the Endocrine Society, which recommend “that transgender youth live in their affirmed gender for at least one year, and have seen a mental health provider who can provide information about mental health stability and insistent, persistent and consistent identity in the affirmed gender before starting medications that feminize or masculinize.”

Parents do not make these decisions lightly. Doctors do not make these decisions lightly,” said Maryann Martindale, of the Utah Academy of Family Physicians.

As the hearing wrapped up Friday morning, Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy, made a motion to send the bill back to the House Rules Committee because “I’m concerned about the process that got us here,” he said.

I think the Rules Committee needs to flesh out the process problems that we’ve had with this bill, and the best way to do it is to send it back to the Rules Committee,” Spendlove said.

When Rep. Merrill Nelson, the chair of the committee, asked Spendlove to clarify what he meant, Spendlove responded, “Well, I don’t think I need to answer your questions, do I?” After a pause, Nelson, R-Grantsville, replied, “Not if you don’t want to, I guess.”

Spendlove did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.

Rep. Kelly Miles, R-Ogden, said he did not think the bill should go backward, adding, “There’s been a lot of emotion. A lot of good testimony. We’ve all had a chance to study this. ... I think we need to bring it to a vote and either pass it on or kill the bill, whichever this body decides.”

The committee voted 10-3 to send the bill back to rules, with Nelson, Miles, and Rep. Cheryl Acton, R-West Jordan, voting no.

Report Taylor Stevens contributed to this story.