CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A bill that would ban physicians from providing gender-affirming surgery to minors is advancing in West Virginia.
West Virginia lawmakers in the House Health and Human Resources Committee greenlit the legislation after little discussion Thursday, sending it to the House Judiciary Committee.
The only lawmakers who spoke at length on the bill were two of the three Democrats on the 25-member committee, who both spoke against it. The rest of the committee is dominated by Republicans, like the rest of the state legislature. No GOP lawmakers explained their votes in support.
Gender-affirming health care for youths, including surgery and hormone therapy, has been a target for Republicans in recent years.
Republicans in other states who have moved to limit access to the treatments for minors have often characterized the treatments as medically unproven and potentially dangerous in the long term, as another political battle against liberal ideologies. They also say teenagers shouldn’t undergo irreversible surgeries.
The same day as West Virginia voted to advance its proposed ban, the Republican-controlled House in Mississippi passed a ban on gender-affirming surgery for minors.
Many doctors, mental health specialists and medical groups have argued that treatments for young transgender people are safe and beneficial, though rigorous long-term research is lacking. Federal health officials have described the gender-affirming care as crucial to the health and well-being of transgender children and adolescents.
Advocates for young transgender people say decisions about health care should be left to children, their parents and their doctors.
West Virginia Democratic Del. Mike Pushkin said during Thursday’s meeting that he doesn’t know why the bill is necessary.
“To me, it’s just an insult to a community that’s already so marginalized in the state,” he said. “Personally, I didn’t come up here to kick people, I didn’t come up here to keep people down. I was elected because I want to help people. This doesn’t help anybody … If you have such an overwhelming majority, do something helpful.”
Democratic Del. Danielle Walker, the only Black woman and openly queer member of the state legislature, noted that LGBTQ children are disproportionately impacted by issues like bullying and suicide.
“Does this bill do anything to keep students safe or reduce harassment?” she asked. A legislative attorney answered no.
Before the vote, Walker said she knew nothing she said would be likely to change GOP lawmakers’ minds.
“That’s why that rainbow flag sits on my desk,” she said. “Not to piss any of you off, and if it does, good, if it makes you uncomfortable. Children should know and adults should know in the people’s house they have a safe place.”
Andrew Schneider, executive director of the LGBTQ advocacy group Fairness West Virginia, described the bill as a “solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.”
“Transgender kids aren’t shopping for doctors, they’re just trying to survive,” Schneider said. “While lawmakers waste taxpayer time and money on bills attacking kids, they’re ignoring the real harms to LGBTQ youth.”
“We want to be clear: The West Virginia Legislature should worry about transgender youth,” he continued. “No child should be left to suffer alone, and our lawmakers continue to ignore this crisis. This bill won’t protect any transgender child from the real harms of this world.”