S.C. Republicans back trans youth health care ban despite pushback from parents, doctors


COLUMBIA - Pleas from transgender children's pediatricians and parents to keep allowing such kids to receive hormone therapies failed to stop Republican lawmakers from advancing a ban on those treatments to the South Carolina House floor on Wednesday.

The GOP-led Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs Committee voted to advance the bill within the first two days of the 2024 legislative session. At least 22 states have enacted similar restrictions amid recent Republican-led crackdowns on transgender medical care, bathroom usage and sports participation.

The expediency underscores South Carolina House Republicans' prioritization of the conservative issue at the outset of an election year that will pit incumbents against primary challengers from the right.

The bill would bar health professionals from performing gender transition surgery, prescribing puberty-blocking drugs and overseeing hormone therapy for anyone under 18 years old.

Matt Sharp, senior counsel for a national Christian conservative advocacy group called the Alliance Defending Freedom, appeared virtually as the lone public testifier supporting the bill. Sharp, an out-of-state lawyer, claimed that children susceptible to "peer pressure" might experience irreversible negative consequences later in life if "experimental procedures" are allowed to continue.

Major medical groups, including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, endorse transgender youth care as safe when administered properly.

South Carolina pediatricians stressed that minors in the state do not receive gender transition surgeries and that the other forms of care are lifesaving for young people who might otherwise turn to self-harm. Treatments occur with "fully involved" parents' consent, according to Dr. Deborah Greenhouse. The pediatrician, who said she has cared for a number of transgender children over more than 30 years in the field, added that minors do not begin taking such medication until puberty begins.

Greenhouse said the proposed ban would make the already difficult path for transgender youth to obtain medical care "even more torturous and virtually impossible to navigate."

Retired naval officer Dave Bell and Rebecca Bell, a software integrator, testified that their 15-year-old transgender daughter's "painful journey" has ultimately alleviated her anxiety and depression, noting that she expressed a desire to die before they started letting her live as a young girl. They said their family visited seven times with an endocrinologist over a three-year period before their daughter started puberty blockers. Their daughter has been seeing mental health counselors for more than seven years, including a gender therapist.

Eric Childs, of Pelzer, said it's up to his 15-year-old transgender son to decide whether to undergo hormone replacement therapy and not lawmakers. He said his son hasn't begun the treatment but that the family wants to ensure he has every medically recommended option available. None of their health care decisions have been taken "on a whim," he added.

"Absolutely every last bit of it has been a conversation: anxious, worried, whatever we could do in his best interest," Childs, who identified himself as a combat veteran, told The Associated Press.

In addition to banning gender transition surgery, puberty-blocking drugs and hormone therapies for minors, the bill would forbid school employees from withholding knowledge of a student's transgender identity from their legal guardians. Opponents decried this provision as "forced outing" that would place vulnerable children from unloving households at risk of homelessness and domestic abuse. Democrats said the move would overburden teachers who aren't trained to recognize gender dysphoria.

Republican state Rep. Jordan Pace said that when he was an educator, he thinks he would have been neglecting his duty if he had ever concealed such information from parents.

"Parents need to know what's going on in their child's life," Republican state Rep. Thomas Beach said.