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Transgender restrictions pass Assembly with GOP votes, get hearing in Senate

Wisconsin Republican lawmakers pushed forward bills on Thursday that would affect the lives of transgender youth, despite opposition from Gov. Tony Evers, Democratic lawmakers and members of the public, including transgender Wisconsinites. 

Assembly Republicans passed three bills that would ban transgender women and girls from participating in women’s sports and ban gender-affirming medical care for youth in Wisconsin. The same day,  senators heard testimony on a related bill that targets gender-affirming medical care.

The bills come as Republican lawmakers nationwide have proposed and enacted legislation targeting LGBTQ people, especially transgender individuals. Evers reiterated Thursday his promises to veto the bills. 

“Today, the Assembly is voting on a series of anti-LGTBQ bills targeting our trans kids. It’s scary. And it’s downright dangerous,” Evers wrote on X (formerly Twitter) . “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — not one of these bills will become law in Wisconsin as long as I am governor.” 

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said the bills were brought forward despite Evers’ opposition because Republicans think they are the right thing to do for Wisconsin families. 

“Hopefully, Gov. Evers has a change of heart,” Vos  said at a press conference ahead of the floor session. He said that overriding Evers’ veto was an option. 

In the Assembly, an override would require the votes of some Democrats to clear the necessary two-thirds majority, an unlikely prospect. Democratic lawmakers criticized the bills throughout the day and the Legislative LGBTQ+ Caucus said in a statement on Thursday that Democrats would uphold Evers’ veto.

“We call upon our Republican colleagues to stop inflicting unnecessary pain on transgender and nonbinary Wisconsinites, and to remove these bills from consideration,” the caucus statement said. 

Assembly passes three transgender related bills

Thursday’s Assembly debate — similar to testimony at the hours-long hearing on the bills last week — was heated as Democrats said the bills would harm LGBTQ youth and Republicans insisted they were protecting children. At times, lawmakers raised their voices. 

Minority Leader Greta Neubauer pointed out that the bills were being brought on the anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard, a gay man murdered in 1998. 

“It was a murder that was fueled by hate and by fear. He was 21 when he died and he should have been 46 today,” Neubauer said during floor debate. “Twenty-five years after his death, to the day, we are here on the floor to debate legislation based on the same sentiments: hate and fear.” 

Two bills — AB 377 and AB 378 — that would bar transgender girls and women from participating in women’s sports in public and voucher schools and in the University of Wisconsin system passed 63-35 along party lines. The bills would also create three categories of teams:  “males,” “females,” and “males and females.”   

Republican lawmakers argued that the bills were about fairness and protecting women’s sports. Throughout debate on the bills, lawmakers told anecdotes about competing in high school sports and coaching athletes. 

“In all my years of coaching swimming and volleyball for boys and girls, there was never a time that I saw an outstanding athlete that was a girl that could beat any of the high school boys. That says that basically women’s sports is dead then if you can win by transitioning and taking hormones that allows you to compete against women,” Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls) said.

Rep. Cindi Duchow (R-Town of Delafield) asked Rep. Robert Wittke (R-Racine) about how large he was in high school — he said he was six feet tall — to make a point that the bill was about safety. Duchow responded, saying that she was 5’4” and 105 lbs, and that she wouldn’t want to play soccer with him in high school. 

Bill author Rep. Barbara Dittrich (R-Oconomowoc) said the third category would create a fair system. Dittrich introduced the same bills in 2021; they passed the Assembly but never received a vote in the Senate.

“We don’t want to punish anyone,” Dittrich said. “I don’t want to punish women either, and I want them to have their day in the sun. I want them to be able to excel at the highest level and to perform to the best of their God-given ability as women.” 

Rep. Kristina Shelton (D-Green Bay) said the mere introduction of a policy to separate children based on their identity is inherently disrespectful and harmful to people. She said that “separate, but equal does not exist” and compared the bill to separate water fountains that existed under Jim Crow laws. 

Shelton said the current Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association policy for transgender inclusion works and upholds students’ privacy, considers medical expertise and allows students, parents and schools to work together. 

“We will not allow you to use kids as political pawns to drive a manufactured crisis under the guise of supporting girls and women’s sports,” Shelton said. 

Shelton cited statistics from the WIAA at last week’s hearing on the bill that 151,000 athletes compete in youth sports. Of those athletes, the Republican authors of the bills said they knew of six transgender athletes that compete in the state. 

About a dozen organizations, including the State Bar of Wisconsin and the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, are registered against the bills according to the Wisconsin Ethics Commission lobbying website. The Wisconsin Catholic Conference and the conservative organization Wisconsin Family Action are the only groups registered in favor. 

Another bill — AB 465 — that would ban minors from receiving gender affirming medical care also passed 63-35 with only Republican votes. 

The bill would bar physicians from administering puberty-blocking drugs, testosterone or estrogen and from performing surgeries including mastectomies and any procedure that “sterilizes an individual” for the purpose of “changing the minor’s body to correspond to a sex that is discordant with the minor’s biological sex.” 

Physicians accused of providing these services could be investigated and face having their license revoked. 

The bill is opposed by two dozen organizations including many of the state’s major medical groups. The Wisconsin Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Medical College of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Academy of Family Physicians, Wisconsin Medical Society, Wisconsin Primary Health Care Association are registered against the bill, according to the Wisconsin Ethics Commission. 

Republicans, including Vos and the bill’s author Rep. Scott Allen (R-Waukesha), however, argued minors were not old enough to make decisions that could permanently alter their bodies and said minors could one day regret their decision to transition. 

“We have a responsibility to recognize potential dangers and adopt policies that will protect our population from the social contagion,” Allen said. “It is important to remember that this bill only addresses minors only because of the science of brain development.” 

Vos chastised Democrats for calling the bills “hateful” during a floor speech and questioned their position on the issue. 

“Somehow, permanent bodily changes when you’re 3-years-old, you got it all figured out,” Vos said. He told Democrats to stop using “empty rhetoric” and to “start talking about the reality of why you believe that mutilating kids who don’t even know what day it is or their colors can decide to permanently change themselves.” 

Transgender and nonbinary people do not typically have gender-affirming surgeries before the age of 18. Most experts have said that genital surgeries are not performed on minors. Other surgeries, including mastectomies, are rarely performed on teenagers and usually only if they are 16 or older. Youth who meet the clinical guidelines do not start medications  such as puberty blockers until after they show signs of puberty. 

In addition, decisions about gender-affirming medical care are not made solely by children, but rather in conjunction with the child, the family and a medical team. One expert told the Examiner that the process of receiving gender-affirming medical care is long and does not happen overnight. 

Studies have also found that de-transitioning is quite rare, including for youth, according to the Human Rights Campaign. One study found that transgender youth who start hormones with their parents’ assistance before age 18 years are less likely to detransition compared with those that start as adults.

Democrats said the bills could harm the mental and physical health of transgender youth. 

Neubauer read a message from her sister, who is transgender, on the Assembly floor, to emphasize the importance of gender-affirming care for transgender people. 

“I know too many people in my community who would not be here today if they had been unable to receive gender-affirming care,” Neubauer said, quoting her sister. “As for myself, my life would not have been worth living if I couldn’t have transitioned.” 

A 2023 national survey by the Trevor Project on the mental health of LGBTQ young people conducted found that one in three LGBTQ young people said their mental health was poor most of the time or always due to anti-LGBTQ policies and legislation. 

One recent study found that gender-affirming medical interventions were associated with lower odds of depression and suicidal thoughts over 12 months. 

“Despite all the scientific evidence, all the heartfelt testimony and despite the fact that we all know that the governor will veto these bills that target our trans youth, neighbors and community, these hateful bills continue to be introduced and supported by the majority,” Rep. Melissa Ratcliff (D-Cottage Grove), whose son is transgender, said on the floor. 

Ratcliff emphasized that her son and other members of the transgender community know who they are. She said the legislation seeks to destroy “acceptance of people who want to be their true selves.”

Senate hearing considers bills targeting gender-affirming care

While the Assembly debated and voted on those bills, the Senate Health committee took testimony on SB 480, the companion to AB-465 barring gender-affirming care for people under 18. That bill goes along with another bill that would create a legal path for individuals that received gender affirming care as a minor to sue physicians for medical malpractice, though it did not receive a hearing on Thursday.

Committee chair Sen. Rachael Cabral-Guevara (R-Appleton) said in a statement ahead of the hearing that it wasn’t her job to avoid controversial subjects, and that the hearings were an opportunity for the public to weigh in on the issue. 

“How an adult chooses to live is none of my business, as long as they are not harming anyone else,” Cabral-Guevara said. “The matter of children being subjected to irreversible medical procedures when they are not old enough to consent is what this hearing concerns.” 

The public hearing went late into the afternoon with opponents to the bill saying that gender affirming medical care is lifesaving for transgender youth and that lawmakers should not be inserting themselves into people’s medical decisions.

Laura Wright, minister of faith formation and congregational life at First Congregational Church-UCC in La Crosse, told the committee about her stepdaughter, who informed her family last year that she used different pronouns and has since left Wisconsin.  

“If you pass this bill, she will be even less likely to return,” Wright said. “The writers of this bill are making our lives as parents infinitely more difficult. We are asking that you trust that we love our kids.” 

Minority Leader Melissa Agard (D-Madison) said in a statement that Republicans were “fast-tracking several egregious proposals that demonize trans individuals to score cheap political points with their extreme base.” 

“The anti-trans bills are not representative of the values of the majority of Wisconsinites…,” Agard said. “To my GOP colleagues, please stop these harmful attacks and efforts to isolate the LGBTQ+ community – these are our friends, our neighbors, and our family.”

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originally published at https%3A%2F%2Fwisconsinexaminer.com%2F2023%2F10%2F13%2Ftransgender-restrictions-pass-assembly-with-gop-votes-get-hearing-in-senate%2F by Baylor Spears

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