HELENA — Montana lawmakers on Tuesday advanced one bill curtailing the rights of transgender student athletes and voted to indefinitely postpone another bill that would restrict certain medical care for minors with gender dysphoria. 

House Bill 112, which bans girls and women who are transgender from playing on women’s K-12 and collegiate sports teams, was amended in a conference committee composed of state senators and representatives. The altered bill would be rendered void if the federal government finds the law to violate Title IX and moves to withhold education funding from Montana public schools and universities. It will now be reconsidered by both chambers as amended.

During the afternoon floor session, lawmakers in the Senate passed a motion to indefinitely postpone action on House Bill 427, which would have banned physicians and health care professionals from providing youth with gender affirming surgeries, such as mastectomies or breast augmentations, while also prohibiting them from referring patients to receive treatment elsewhere. The bill was the more recent version of a proposal introduced earlier in the session, HB 113, which would have banned a wider range of medical care for youth diagnosed with gender dysphoria. That measure narrowly failed to pass the House.

Eight Republicans voted with Democrats to indefinitely postpone HB 427, including Sen. Duane Ankney of Colstrip, Sen. Bruce Gillespie of Ethridge, and Sen. Walt Sales of Manhattan. 

“That’s one of those things that’s not necessarily really happening anyway,” said Sen. Jason Small, R-Busby, about the rarity of the procedures outlined in HB 427 when explaining his vote to indefinitely postpone. Small also said he’d been contacted by doctors and other medical professionals who urged a careful review of the bill. 

Democrats and advocates for transgender Montanans celebrated the vote on the medical ban, saying the bill sent a negative message to youth who may already experience bullying and negativity because of their gender identity. 

“Discrimination isn’t a Montana value, period,” said Sen. Bryce Bennett, D-Missoula, who brought the successful motion on the Senate floor. “We came together today to protect trans kids and make sure their parents control their health care, not the government.” 

Rep. John Fuller, R-Kalispell, is the bill sponsor of both proposals and has adamantly defended his intent through multiple twists in the legislative process. In comments before the committee considering HB 112, Fuller said the bill was meant to protect cisgender women and girls from what he deems to be unfair competition against athletes who were identified as male at birth. 

“You have a human right not to be discriminated against, but you do not have a sports right. We have all kinds of classifications regarding sports. We have height, weight, age, size and sex,” Fuller said. “And all this bill does is reinforce that.”

In a comment after the vote on HB 427, Fuller expressed disappointment in the votes of some Republican senators, saying his bill would have protected children from making drastic medical decisions before they turn 18. 

“Some of those senators did not have the moral courage to hold the line,” Fuller said. “They can rationalize it all they want, but the bottom line is they were tested and they failed.” Fuller added that he did not agree with medical providers who have opposed the bill, including the Montana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, offering that “so-called medical authorities” have historically been wrong about any number of issues. 

“If people are willing to alter children, to what depths has our society sunk,” he said.

Fuller added that, at this stage in the session, he does not anticipate that any effort to revive HB 427 would be successful. He would not comment on future plans to bring a similar bill.

LGBTQ advocates celebrated the vote on HB 427 and indicated they would continue to push legislators and the governor to oppose other bills that would negatively impact their community.

“We hope all transgender, nonbinary and Two Spirit Montanans see this as a sign that they are valued and belong in our state, and we’re grateful for the many senators who listened to their constituents and the many physicians and community members that shared what this bill would really do,” said Shawn Reagor with the Montana Human Rights Network. “We call on Governor Gianforte to follow that lead and send the message that Montana is open for business and we value all people living in this great state by vetoing the other bills attacking LGBTQ people.”

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Mara covers Montana’s social welfare, criminal justice and legal systems. 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.