Sen. Dan Thatcher says he’s ‘fine’ after impassioned Utah Senate floor debate about gender-affirming care

Thatcher, who has had several strokes since November, appeared to have a medical emergency during a debate about whether to prohibit doctors for prescribing gender-affirming care to transgender minors.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah state Sen. Daniel Thatcher, left, R-West Valley City, on the opening day of the Legislative session, on Tuesday. Thatcher told The Salt Lake Tribune that he had to take a moment to lower his heart rate after appearing to have a medical issue on the Senate floor on Jan. 19, 2023.

The Utah Senate was disrupted for a short time on Thursday morning during an emotional and contentious debate on a bill to prohibit prescribing gender-affirming care for minors who are transgender.

Lawmakers rushed to attend to Sen. Daniel Thatcher who appeared to suffer from a medical issue. Fortunately, Thatcher says, the incident was not as serious as it may have first appeared.

“I had to sit down and take some time to bring my heart rate down,” Thatcher said during a phone call with The Salt Lake Tribune.

The West Valley City Republican, who has suffered several strokes since November, said his heart rate jumped into potentially dangerous territory as he spoke against the legislation, which he believes puts transgender youth at risk.

“I sat down, and everybody rushed over to see if I was okay. I told them I’m fine, just trying to bring my heart rate down,” Thatcher said.

Here is what led up to the incident on the Senate floor Thursday:

Senate Bill 16 from Sen. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, was up for the first of two floor debates after winning approval in a Senate committee the day before. Among other things, the legislation bars doctors from prescribing hormone therapy, such as puberty blockers to minors who are transgender. It also prohibits body-altering surgeries for transgender youth.

Thatcher, who opposed last year’s legislation seeking to ban transgender athletes from participating in youth sports, warned his colleagues he may not be able to continue because of his health issues and wanted to be sure he would be recorded as a “no” vote on the bill. He then told his colleagues of a “near-death experience” that happened during one of his strokes.

“I don’t care what your religious beliefs are. I don’t care if you think I’m crazy. I don’t care if you think it was a hallucination of a mind without proper blood flow. I faced judgment, and I felt worthy. And I don’t think I would feel worthy if I didn’t stand and speak right now,” Thatcher said, his voice hesitating and breaking at points.

Kennedy immediately jumped in, objecting to Thatcher’s remarks.

“To impugn, the worthiness of those that may vote one way or another on this is beyond the pale of appropriateness. Anybody who votes for this bill is not worthy to stand in front of God — that is the sort of thing I find entirely inappropriate. We should talk about policy, not God’s judgment on our policy,” Kennedy said.

“If you can speak for God, that’s pretty impressive,” a clearly irked Kennedy added.

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Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, warned Thatcher to keep his comments related to the bill. Thatcher said he was speaking only about himself, then continued.

“If you vote ‘no’ on this, there are people in the Facebook outrage machine that will call you ‘woke’ and call you names. But, frankly, they’re calling Sen. (Daniel) McCay that for running a flag bill,” Thatcher said.

The Senate advanced the bill on a 22-7 vote with Thatcher joining the six Democrats in voting against the bill.

The Senate is expected to give final approval to the legislation on Friday before being sent to the Utah House.