Creep of the Week: South Dakota Legislature

548
The top of South Dakota State Capitol in Pierre, South Dakota
South Dakota State Capitol in Pierre, South Dakota

New law bans gender-affirming care if you are under 18

A few years ago my wife, son, and I drove across the country from Michigan to Yellowstone National Park. We had cell reception the entire trip except in South Dakota, where our phones didn’t work at all, which meant no GPS. Thankfully my wife can read a map. If it had just been me, I would still be out there, becoming a de-facto resident, essentially living in my car.

My point is South Dakota already doesn’t have a great track record with me. And now they’ve made living in my car there even less appealing by becoming the first state in the U.S. to pass a law to force transgender youth to detransition.

According to Vice, the law “bans gender-affirming care — including puberty blockers, hormones, and surgery — for people under 18” and “gives healthcare professionals until the end of the year to cease treatment for patients currently receiving various forms of gender-affirming care.” Doctors who don’t abide by the new law are “at risk of losing their license and could be sued for damages.”

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the members of the South Dakota legislature know less about this subject then, um, doctors. This is a case of trying to legislate away something people don’t understand.

It’s also a case of gross misrepresentation of transgender people and what gender-affirming care for minors is by the media. Horror stories of genital mutilation by abusive parents and doctors dominate.

“Transgenderism” is treated like it’s some kind of contagious disease.

And it’s not just Fox News and fringe conservative outlets I’m talking about. The New York Times is under intense criticism for its transgender coverage, which is often slanted against transgender people and ignores transgender voices but amplifies anti-trans voices.

GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis called the NYT coverage “downright shameful.”

“The Times’ inaccurate coverage has been cited in legal documents used to justify discrimination and targeting of trans people,” she posted to Twitter. “It’s time for the Times to stop this relentless misinformation disguised as disingenuous ‘just asking questions’ reporting and ridiculous and harmful opinion pieces that do not represent the reality of trans people’s experiences.”

Believe it or not, trans people who could speak to their lives exist. Even trans journalists exist! You don’t need a FOIA request to find this information, so the NYT has no excuse.

What’s lost in much media coverage is that transgender youth and their families are actual human beings. Arriving at the decision to seek gender-affirming care isn’t something families do thoughtlessly. And the medical community backs this care.

“These interventions are safe and effective and are correlated with better mental health outcomes for trans people,” Vice reports. “Teens who are able to access gender-affirming therapy typically also have better mental health outcomes than trans people who have to wait until adulthood.”

This, of course, makes sense. There are plenty of medical interventions that are best done before adulthood. That’s why it’s much more common to see kids with braces on their teeth than adults, for example.

But lawmakers like the ones in South Dakota think that they know better than doctors and parents. They’ve chosen to dictate gender as a binary by law. And they’re celebrating the fact that they’ve just made the lives of trans youth in South Dakota much harder.

In a photo posted on Twitter by Rep. Fred Deutsch, 10 people, presumably all South Dakota legislators, are smiling and raising a glass. Deutch posted, “Celebrating with some very courageous South Dakota legislators…that Gov. Kristi Noem signed HB1080 into law to protect gender-confused children.”

A screenshot of the tweet was posted by an account called Living Blue In SD with the caption, “Everything wrong with the state of South Dakota in one photo. The Land of Infinite Intolerance.”

The photo is gross enough, but calling them, and himself, “courageous” for using their position of power to target an already extremely vulnerable population of children and their families is not courage.

Courage is 16-year-old Elliot Morehead, who testified in front of the legislative committee considering the anti-trans bill in January.

“I am transgender, and I’m proud,” Morehead said according to South Dakota Searchlight. “I’m in a body that has a couple more steps to being a hundred percent me.”

A teen standing up before a group of adults in power and challenging them is hard enough, but Morehead had the added weight of having to argue their own humanity. That’s hard to do. And it hurts.

And the South Dakota legislature still chose to vote against young people like Morehead. So, if you’d like, raise a glass to Elliot Morehead. But, more importantly, raise some hell in your own state legislature in the name of protecting — not punishing — trans youth.