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Bill to ban gender-affirming care for minors advances in both Tennessee House and Senate

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Both House and Senate versions of a bill to ban healthcare providers from treating transgender minors with gender-affirming care took steps toward becoming law, passing handily in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and the House Health Committee on Wednesday.

The bill not only prohibits healthcare providers from treating transgender minors, it also sets up a system for reporting violations to the Tennessee Attorney General. It would also give parents of a person who commits suicide after receiving gender affirming care the right to sue a physician who provided the care for up to 30 years after the teen reaches the age of 18.

SB 1 passed in Judiciary on a party line vote of 7-2, with Memphis Democratic Sens. London Lamar and Sara Kyle voting ‘nay.’

Kyle raised questions about the state’s role in legislating parental decisions on healthcare.

Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis
Tennessee Lookout
John Partipilo
Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis

“You could talk to 100 different parents and hear 100 different ways to care for a child. I might not agree with all of it, but it should not be a crime to disagree about the best way to care for our children,” said Kyle, a Memphis Democrat. “We’re usually about parents’ rights. This bill is taking away rights from parents.”

“We should support the freedom of Tennesseans to decide their health care on their own but this bill is saying government knows best,” Kyle said.

Of the five speakers testifying before the Senate committee, four opposed the bill, including Kathy Sinback, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee. Sinback told lawmakers her organization is prepared to sue the state should the measure become law.

“Courts across the country have recognized that this type of legislation violates the equal protection and the due process rights of adolescents, their parents and their doctors,” Sinback said.

“This bill discriminates on the basis of transgender status and infringes on the fundamental rights of parents. For those reasons, it triggers the highest level of constitutional scrutiny, which means Tennessee will carry the burden of proving that this law advances important interests and the state of Tennessee simply will not be able to prove that,” she said. “No state has.”

The House discussion on Wednesday featured pointed questioning by Democratic Reps. John Ray Clemmons, Bo Mitchell and Caleb Hemmer of Matt Walsh, a right-wing podcast host and writer for the Daily Wire, which is based in Nashville.

In September, Walsh posted online edited videos of physicians at Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Clinic for Transgender Health, and inaccurately claimed children are “drugged and sterilized,” among other false claims.

Walsh also hosted an October anti-transgender rally in Nashville that included as speakers Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn and state Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, who is sponsoring the Senate bill.

“(Lawmakers) are ignoring years and years of advocacy by trans youth and trans people who have become adults in Tennessee, and doctors who have done advocacy for years in the state for a moment of political gain with people like Matt Walsh, who have come in the state and aren’t invested in Tennesseans,” said Jace Wilder, spokesperson for the Tennessee Equality Project, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ Tennesseans. “They are villainizing the people they represent while also claiming they are saving them from a problem they are creating.”

The House Health committee approved the measure by a 20-4 vote. Democratic Rep. Darren Jernigan was the only Democrat to vote with the majority.

A vote in the full Senate is scheduled for Monday while the House Civil Justice Committee will consider HB 1 on Wednesday.

This story was originally published by the Tennessee Lookout.

Holly McCall is the editor-in-chief of the Tennessee Lookout. She has been a fixture in Tennessee media and politics for decades. Holly covered city hall for papers in Columbus, Ohio and Joplin, Missouri before returning to Tennessee with the Nashville Business Journal. She has served as political analyst for WZTV Fox 17 and provided communications consulting for political campaigns at all levels, from city council to presidential. Holly brings a deep wealth of knowledge about Tennessee’s political processes and players and likes nothing better than getting into the weeds of how political deals are made.
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