State Rep. Mallerie Stromswold, R-Billings, speaks at a hearing on House Bill 113 on Jan. 22, 2021.

HELENA — Lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee this week passed two bills that would restrict transgender youth and athletes in Montana by barring them from receiving gender-affirming medical care and prohibiting trans women and girls from participating on women’s sports teams. 

House Bill 112, pertaining to athletics, and House Bill 113, which prohibits medical professionals from treating gender dysphoria, were the subject of intense debates before the committee Monday. Lawmakers voted Thursday to pass HB 112 and took action on HB 113 Friday morning, after accepting a substantial amendment to the bill that includes more detail on prohibited treatments and penalties for providers. The bills will now advance to a full vote on the House floor.

In both instances, Rep. Mallerie Stromswold, R-Billings, was the only member of her caucus to vote against the measures. In an interview Friday after the vote on HB 113, she said she does not believe the Legislature should interfere with personal decisions in these instances.

“My whole political ideology lays with the fact that I don’t think we should control people’s lives,” she said. “I really just don’t understand why people are so threatened by other people’s decisions that they feel the need to control them. This decision isn’t hurting us in any way.”

Stromswold estimated she had received 4,000 calls, emails and texts asking her to vote against both bills.

“My whole political ideology lays with the fact that I don’t think we should control people’s lives. I really just don’t understand why people are so threatened by other people’s decisions that they feel the need to control them.”

Rep. Mallerie Stromswold, R-Billings

“When I got calls from constituents in Montana telling me their stories and letting me know what this experience was actually like, I was dumbfounded,” Stromswold said, referring to the debated health care procedures. “I was like, wow, I’m really uneducated, and I can’t imagine everybody else [on the committee] is all that much more educated, because it is a taboo issue. It’s something we stay away from.”

Proponents of HB 113 have said the measure protects children who may not be old enough to capably agree to medical treatments, including puberty suppressants, hormonal treatments and certain surgeries, that would have a serious impact on their lives. Trans and nonbinary people, in addition to their family members and medical providers, have said the bill fundamentally misunderstands the deliberative approach that comes with treating gender dysphoria among young people, many of whom also experience related depression, anxiety and suicidality.

Advocates of HB 112, which would create the “Save Women’s Sports Act,” argued that people who have been designated as male at birth have biological athletic advantages compared to cisgender women, regardless of whether they have gone through puberty or are taking hormones to change their testosterone levels as outlined by the NCAA guidelines for transgender people participating in sports.

Democrats on the committee spoke against the bills Thursday and Friday, echoing testimony from earlier in the week that said the measures would compromise the health and well-being of many nonbinary and transgender Montanans. Those speaking against the bills also raised concerns about their legality, regarding both students who would be discriminated against on the basis of sex and medical providers who would be restricted in providing referrals and treatments for patients.

In the days since the initial hearings on Monday, Democrats also said the potential ramifications have increased because of a new executive order signed by President Joe Biden barring entities that receive federal funds from discriminating on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation

“I think it’s irresponsible, one day after President Biden has issued this order that will possibly jeopardize millions and millions of dollars in federal funds that Montana receives, to pass this bill before we have a chance to see the fiscal note that evaluates how many millions we will lose as a result of this bill,” said Rep. Ed Stafman, D-Bozeman.

After a request, fiscal notes issued by the governor’s budget office usually take a few days to be added to a bill.

Floor hearings before the full House are expected to be scheduled for early next week.

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Mara covers Montana’s social welfare and criminal justice systems, including public health matters such as substance use disorders and mental health care. She also tracks policy and social issues that affect LGBTQ+ people. Prior to joining Montana Free Press, Mara worked at Slate and WNYC, where she focused on radio and podcasts. She got her start in audio journalism as an intern at Montana Public Radio. Contact Mara at msilvers@montanafreepress.org, 406-465-3386 ext. 3, and follow her on Twitter.