Utah step closer to banning gender-affirming care for transgender minors

A bill to prevent doctors from providing gender-affirming care to transgender youth has cruised through the state Senate and now goes to the Utah House for debate.

The Utah Senate gave final passage to a bill aiming to crack down on the ability of doctors to prescribe hormone therapy for minors who are transgender. The legislation, Senate Bill 16, would also enact an outright ban on body-altering surgeries, such as mastectomies, for transgender youth.

The bill has cruised through the Senate quickly during the first week of the 2023 general session.

State Sen. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, a physician by trade and the bill’s sponsor, said he understands some of his colleagues may disagree with his legislation.

“We all approach this with compassion, kindness and consideration. But we come to different conclusions. That’s the nature of different opinions, and it’s the nature of the political process,” Kennedy said.

In 2021, Kennedy wrote a letter to the editor published in The Salt Lake Tribune pushing back against COVID restrictions and vaccinations. In the letter, Kennedy argued that the government should not “usurp the power of parents” when deciding the best course of action for their children.

When asked about the 2021 letter during a news conference after the vote, Kennedy says his stances on parental rights and COVID restrictions are consistent with his policy goals contained in this year’s Transgender Medical Treatments and Procedures Amendments bill.

“When it comes to that, I do trust parents and taking care of their children. But there is no regulation right now in this area of transgender health care, and this bill does a great job bringing a regulatory framework so that our children are cared for in the safest, most effective fashion,” Kennedy said.

As the bill barreled toward final passage, Sen. Nate Blouin, D-Salt Lake City, read a letter on the floor from his intern, Ari Webb, who is transgender.

“This is a reminder of the fact that people like me are not accepted by the majority of this body. This is not a partisan issue. No one is trying to indoctrinate your kids into the trans community that would welcome them with open arms. I would not be alive if I had not been able to transition, and I am lucky that my attempts to take my life before that time failed,” Webb wrote.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Nate Blouin, D-Salt Lake City, as the Senate gives final passage to a bill aiming to crack down on the ability of doctors to prescribe hormone therapy for minors who are transgender, at the Capitol building in Salt Lake City on Friday January 20, 2023. At right is intern Ari Webb, whose statement Blouin read during the vote.

Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, and Kennedy verbally tangled during Thursday’s floor debate on the bill, which led to a minor medical issue for Thatcher. Thatcher again drew Kennedy’s ire on Friday when he suggested the legislation was unconstitutional because it singled out a specific group.

“It seems to me like it’s not equal protection of the law. If we say we prohibit this care if you’re [transgender], but we don’t prohibit the care if you’re not,” Thatcher, who was joining the session remotely, said. “I don’t see how that holds up as constitutional. I believe this bill is unconstitutional, and I cannot vote for it without violating my oath to defend and uphold the Constitution.”

Kennedy objected after Thatcher wondered aloud if the bill would lead to jailing parents who provide this kind of care for their children, prompting Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, to admonish Thatcher to stay on topic.

“You’re making innuendos that are very difficult for us to be able to handle right now,” Adams said.

SB16 passed on a 21-7 margin Friday, with Thatcher joining the chamber’s six Democrats in voting against it.

The bill now moves to the Utah House, where freshman Rep. Katy Hall, R-Ogden, will shepherd the proposal.

Kennedy says he expects SB16 to be heard in committee on Tuesday, along with House Bill 132, sponsored by Rep. Rex Shipp, R-Cedar City. Shipp’s bill would make performing a medical procedure on a minor as part of a sex change or transition punishable by a fine or subject to disciplinary action by the state.

The Senate approved two other bills Friday that take aim at issues surrounding gender identity. Senate Bill 93, sponsored by Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, blocks teenagers from changing their birth certificates until they are 18 years old. The third bill — SB100 from Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross — requires schools to inform parents if they adopt a policy requiring faculty to address students by a different name.