JEFFERSON CITY — Legislation that would bar Missouri doctors from providing certain medical procedures and therapy to transgender children is being sharply criticized by advocates who call the proposed restrictions abusive and dangerous.
At a House Judiciary Committee hearing, held Tuesday night, transgender men, women and children — along with their parents, grandparents, doctors, counselors, advocates and others — warned the proposals, if enacted, would lead to more suicides.
“Innocent children will be killed because of this,” Mazy Gilleylen, 14, said. “That’s just not right.”
One of the bills, sponsored by Rep. Adam Schnelting, R-St. Charles, would prohibit any medical procedures for gender reassignment from being performed on children. These would include hormonal therapy and puberty blockers, which are distinct from surgery that physically changes genitalia.
“This proposal simply acts as a roadblock for minors who’ve been placed under pressure,” Schnelting said. “That way they can reach that decision on their own in adulthood.”
The onset of puberty can cause severe mental health problems for transgender children, leading to depression, self-harm and even suicide, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Puberty blockers, which are reversible, are a medically accepted way to treat this.
“By delaying puberty, the child and family gain time — typically several years — to explore gender-related feelings and options,” according to the academy’s guidelines on caring for transgender children.
Under Schnelting’s legislation, doctors could have their licenses revoked if they treat anyone younger than 18 with such methods. Parents of children who receive the treatment could also be reported to the Department of Social Services for child abuse.
A second bill, sponsored by Rep. Suzie Pollock, R-Lebanon, would classify surgical or hormonal treatment for children as criminal child abuse.
Dozens of people came forward in opposition at Tuesday’s hearing. Though witnesses often got less than a minute of speaking time each, the public testimony lasted well over an hour.
Many wiped away tears as they described the harm the legislation would cause. Some described their children’s anguish at being stuck in a body that felt wrong to them; some people described their own history of suicide attempts.
They pleaded and demanded that the lawmakers reject the plans.
Mazy, who was the subject of a Post-Dispatch profile in 2016, said the legislation wouldn’t help anyone.
“Why do you not just see that I deserve basic rights?” she asked. “I shouldn’t have to travel 300 miles to stop adults from making a law that would prevent me from being able to go to the doctor.”
Opponents said the law would mean minors already receiving treatments would have to stop.
Several physicians also spoke against the plan.
Over 40% of transgender people will attempt to commit suicide in their lifetimes, said Dr. Sarah Garwood, an adolescent medicine specialist and co-director of the Washington University Transgender Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
But research shows that receiving gender-affirming care, which includes puberty blockers, can reduce that risk, she said.
“This bill asks us to limit life-saving medical services in violation of our professional standards of care,” Garwood said.
Accepted medical guidelines already prohibit surgical interventions for transgender children, said Dr. Christopher Lewis, a pediatric endocrinologist and the center’s other co-director.
House Democrats tore into the legislation.
“It seems to me that this bill — particularly with the suicide statistics that you guys are citing — it strikes me as to tantamount to murder,” said Rep. Gina Mitten, D-Richmond Heights.
One Republican lawmaker asked pointed questions of the sponsors.
“Do you have any evidence to suggest that gender reassignment surgeries are occurring on minors within the state of Missouri currently?” said Rep. Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Peters.
Schnelting said he didn’t.
The committee meeting began late Tuesday, soon after the House adjourned at around 7:30 p.m.
The gender reassignment proposals were the last of four bills to receive public hearings. Testimony didn’t start until 9 p.m., but the hearing room was packed with opponents at 4 p.m.
Rep. David Gregory, R-Sunset Hills, who chairs the panel, limited public testimony to 30 seconds, apart from experts near the beginning, who were given two minutes. He allowed most witnesses to exceed their time.
Before the hearing began, Gregory also said he knew that the legislation was sensitive, but asked witnesses and the crowd to maintain decorum.
The audience broke his rules several times. Some snapped their fingers in support of a speaker and scoffed audibly at things the sponsors said. After the crowd erupted in derisive laughter midway through the hearing, Gregory said he’d had enough.
“These breaches of decorum — they’re disrespectful. It will not be tolerated,” he said. “A lot of you care a lot. But so do the representatives on this stand, and they will be respected.”
Gregory said he would end the hearing if the crowd made more noise: “The next (outburst), I’m done. I’m shutting it down. Testimony will be concluded.”
The audience stayed quiet, and the hearing went on. It ended just before 11 p.m.
Get Government & Politics updates in your inbox!
Stay up-to-date on the latest in local and national government and political topics with our newsletter.