‘I deserve a body to feel proud of.’ Crowds rally for transgender health care at Utah Capitol

A bill that would have banned nearly all gender-affirming care for minors failed in the House Health and Human Services Committee.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Oliver and Becca Day at a rally in support of transgender youth at the Capitol building in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023.

Lawmakers in a Utah House committee soundly rejected a bill that would have penalized doctors for giving gender-affirming health care to minors, then moments later approved legislation that included similar restrictions on transgender health care — minus the punishment — on party line during a lengthy committee meeting Tuesday.

Members of the House Health and Human Services Committee voted to advance Sen. Mike Kennedy’s, R-Alpine, bill, Senate Bill 16, which has undergone a number of changes since its introduction.

In its current version, it intends to clamp down on doctors’ ability to prescribe hormone therapy to minors and would prohibit transgender-related body-altering surgeries on minors. It would also ask the Department of Health and Human Services to “conduct a systematic review of medical evidence” surrounding hormone treatments for transgender youth.

Kennedy’s bill, which was approved by the Senate last week, will move on to be considered by the full House of Representatives.

The bill the committee tossed, put forward by Rep. Rex Shipp, R-Cedar City, would have imposed an absolute ban on any gender-affirming health care for minors and made providing such services punishable by a fine or subject to disciplinary action by the state.

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In addition to Democrats opposing Shipp’s House Bill 132, Republican Reps. Ray Ward, of Bountiful; Anthony Loubet, of Kearns; Steve Eliason, of Sandy; Marsha Judkins, of Provo; Stewart Barlow, of Fruit Heights; and Robert Spendlove, of Sandy, voted against it.

Ward, who is a family practice physician, said in opposing Shipp’s bill that he preferred an option that included a way for the state to gather more information on the impacts of hormone treatments on transgender youth, and that he was concerned the bill would open the state up to lawsuits.

“I don’t think that this is a closed issue at all,” Ward said.

Echoing Ward’s concerns, Loubet told the committee, “If you have somebody who’s transgender and you shut this window, this path, you’ve left nothing else open. There’s no path, there’s no hope, there’s no way going forward with this bill.”

Loubet added, “I think we need to have something that’s a little more forward-thinking.”

Among those who supported the bill was Rep. Quinn Kotter, R-West Valley City. He told the committee that he brought a Bible with him to the Capitol on Tuesday, and, before reading from Genesis, said “There are absolute moral truths, and male and female is something that comes from our creator.”

Many of those in the audience made a thumbs-down gesture during Kotter’s remarks.

In a text following the vote, Shipp said he is not sure if he will run a similar bill again in the future, but that he is “worried about the kids that will be damaged irreversibly and will eventually regret it.”

During his presentation, Shipp called on the same expert witness who Kennedy featured in an earlier Senate committee hearing for his bill — Chloe Cole, a California teenager who transitioned from female to male, then later transitioned back.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) People gather at a rally in support of transgender youth at the Capitol building in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023.

He also included testimony from Erin Brewer, from Logan. Brewer, who is the co-founder of Advocates Protecting Children and has a blog criticizing transgender rights movements, told the committee she is “a former transgender kid” who “realized that my transgender identity was a coping mechanism” after being sexually assaulted.

“In the long term, (hormone therapy) would have reinforced the mistaken belief that caused my gender dysphoria in the first place — that it was too dangerous to be a girl,” Brewer said. “If I had medically transitioned, I wouldn’t have gotten the help that I needed to work through my fear, my self-hatred and my shame.”

Dozens of people stood up to speak against both bills — most of whom came to the meeting to oppose the measures.

Among them was Bri Martin, the editor of the student newspaper at West High School and a transgender woman. She said the gender-affirming care she has received is “nothing short of life-saving.”

“Me and my family were saved from the arduous and painstaking task of adult transition. I would like to make clear that no matter the opposition, transitioning was always the only option for me,” Martin told the committee.

“I deserve a body to feel proud of,” she said, ending her remarks and earning applause from the crowd.

Martin also spoke at a rally on the steps of the Capitol earlier in the day, where attendees were carrying signs that read “the future isn’t binary” and “trans kids matter” — along with pink, white and baby blue flags that billowed in the cold wind. Some 200 people came in support of transgender youth.

“I drove up to the Capitol today and I was so scared as a trans person to see what the turnout would be here,” said Sage Paulson, one of the transgender youth who spoke at the rally. “I started crying. I’m so happy to see everyone here today.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) People gather at a rally in support of transgender youth at the Capitol building in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023.

The rally, hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah and the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Utah, was organized in the wake of a series of bills — including Shipp’s and Kennedy’s — being considered by the Utah Legislature that would affect trans youth and their access to gender-affirming health care.

Sue Robbins from Equality Utah helped hand out crocheted heart pins in the colors of the transgender flag and urged people to wear them to the committee hearing.

Because the rally was held during the school day, many parents of transgender children came out to support their kids. One mom — who identified herself by her first name, Laurel, to protect her child’s privacy — told The Salt Lake Tribune that “today is a day when we are fighting for our child’s lives and that’s really what it comes down to. We don’t want them to feel like they are less than or other in any way.”

Laurel said her child has been on hormone therapy for a year. Hormone blockers, she said, give children and their families the gift of time to figure themselves out. “As parents, we’re scared, because if your child is not accepted in the world, if they do not feel like they have a place in the world, then how are they going to live their life?” she said.

Another mother of a transgender child, who identified herself as Tanya, is a friend of Laurel’s — and the two families act as support systems for each other. If transgender health care were stopped entirely in Utah, she said, her family would most likely leave Utah. Her family loves Utah, she said, but she wants their children to have the right to exist.

“The fact is that a child who is forced to live in a body that is not in the line with how they see themselves is more likely to hurt themselves,” Tanya said, “and we don’t want that for our families.”