A proposed Ohio bill seeks to ban transgender healthcare for minors
Written by Riley Roliff
Ava felt like she had been punched in the face. Having just learned about Ohio’s proposed Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act, which would ban transgender minors like herself from accessing gender-affirming care, all other aspects of her life came to an abrupt halt. Every waking moment was spent pouring through each detail and justification of the SAFE Act. The experience was debilitating.
“I was not able to function for multiple days,” said Ava, who requested to go only by her first name. “I was too busy worrying about what is in this thing and coming to terms with the scary reality that I, in that moment, was not in charge of my own destiny.”
Ava is one of many in the Ohio transgender community worried about the dark implications of the SAFE Act.
A 2022 peer-reviewed study found that gender-affirming care, including puberty blockers and hormone treatment, reduce the odds of depression by 60% and suicidality by 73% in transgender and non-binary youth. The use of gender-affirming care by transgender minors is also endorsed by a plethora of prominent medical associations, including the American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“My biggest concern with this bill is, to be blunt, that trans youth will die,” said Micah Mitchell, a policy fellow at ACLU Ohio. “Vast amounts of verifiable research done on this shows that gender-affirming care is life-saving for trans youth.”
If enacted, the bill would forcibly detransition transgender minors who have been receiving gender-affirming care. Conduct that “aids and abets” transgender youth in receiving gender-affirming care in other states, such as Ohio healthcare professionals making referrals for transgender youth experiencing gender dysphoria, would be prohibited. Mental health professionals would be prohibited from diagnosing and treating minors for gender dysphoria without the consent of their parents and without first screening the patient for comorbidities and trauma. In addition, mental health professionals would be required to annually report data on minors they are treating for gender-related conditions. The bill would also prohibit transition services from being covered by Medicaid.
Minna Zelch, the mother of a transgender girl who she says was saved by gender-affirming care, considered getting a cheap apartment in Pennsylvania and establishing residency there after the bill was first proposed.
“It was really counting down the days until her 18th birthday,” said Zelch.
The bill comes at a time of increased legislative attacks on transgender people from conservative state legislatures. The first month and a half of 2023 saw a record-breaking 350 anti-trans bills introduced across the country, more than doubling the amount introduced throughout 2022. Eight states have banned gender-affirming care for transgender minors, and several more are considering doing the same.
The extent of anti-trans bills is expanding at breakneck speed. What started as attempts to ban transgender minors from sports teams and bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity has quickly evolved into attempts to ban gender-affirming care for transgender youth. Some states have proposed going beyond this, including attempting to ban transgender adults from accessing gender-affirming care, allowing parents of a transgender child receiving gender-affirming care to kidnap them from another parent, and Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s 2022 directive for Family and Protective Services to investigate families of minors receiving gender-affirming care for child abuse.
Terry Schilling, the president of the American Principles Project, a far-right organization at the forefront of the anti-trans movement, admitted to The New York Times that his organization's long-term goal has always been eliminating gender-affirming care for all ages. Schilling said that the initial focus on children was simply a matter of “going where the consensus is.”
“This is a full-fledged war targeting trans people,” said Cassie Steiner, a young transgender woman.
The war on transgender people has featured high amounts of coordination between conservative legislators and far-right Christian organizations. In Ohio, a large role is played by the Center for Christian Virtue (CCV), an affiliate of Christian conservative juggernaut Focus on the Family and a rising star in Ohio politics. Until 2017, CCV was labeled as an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
CCV has also worked closely with the legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which is labeled as an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the SPLC. In addition to being deeply involved in the current anti-trans movement in the United States, ADF has also supported attempts to legislate state-enforced sterilization of trans people in Europe and attempts to recriminalize gay sex in India. They have argued that LGBTQ people are more likely to engage in pedophilia, and that society and Christianity are at risk of being destroyed by a “homosexual agenda.”
“This bill was shopped to Gary Click originally by the Center for Christian Virtue, and looks like the bills that the Alliance Defending Freedom has shopped all across the nation,” Mitchell said. “This is less about science than — what I would argue — Christian nationalism and pushing a set of values.”
Ohio Rep. Gary Click, whose only exposure to transgender people prior to introducing the bill was through YouTube videos, first introduced the SAFE Act after CCV approached him to do so. The anecdotes Click uses to justify the bill came to him through CCV. CCV has also testified in favor of the bill, coordinated with conservative legislators and prominent right-wing think tanks such as Heritage Action and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in efforts to pass various other pieces of legislation in Ohio. It has made lavish donations to leading Ohio republicans such as Governor Mike Dewine and Attorney General David Yost.
Jeanne Ogden, the head of the advocacy group Trans Allies Ohio, said that transgender people and their families who have attempted to share their stories with Rep. Click have repeatedly been met with harmful questions and comments. Click later claimed that these conversations reinforced his support for the SAFE Act, which made Ogden deeply unsettled.
“That’s rather alarming to think that you could talk about your experiences and instead of having the person say ‘wow, I can see why this is important to you,’ they instead say ‘you’re an example of why I have to pass this bill,’” Ogden said.