Republican lawmakers in the state House of Representatives on Friday pushed through a bill banning gender-affirming medical procedures for transgender minors and the use of public funds for those treatments, the last major hurdle in the bill’s path to Gov. Greg Gianforte’s desk.
The chamber’s near party-line vote on Senate Bill 99 largely matched the body’s first vote on the bill Thursday — all but three Republicans supported the measure after less than an hour of debate. It will now be returned to the Senate chamber, where it was approved in February, for consideration of two amendments adopted by House lawmakers.
SB 99 has been blasted by transgender Montanans, family members and medical professionals who cast the policy as a discriminatory, wrongheaded infringement on human rights. Republicans, who hold a supermajority in Montana’s Legislature, have promoted the legislation as an attempt to protect minors from pursuing medical treatments, including puberty blockers and hormones, that they may later regret.
Members of the majority party echoed that assessment during the Thursday debate on the House floor.
“Our kids are our future. Everybody knows that. They need our protection,” said Rep. Terry Falk, R-Kalispell, holding up a copy of the bill. “In my opinion, this is what compassion looks like.”
Democrats panned that argument, countering that SB 99 will hurt youth and families by trampling on medical freedom and parental choice.
“The fact is that there are kids and parents and members of the LGBT community in this room, in this building, in communities all across the state. They are your constituents, your community members, your colleagues,” said Rep. SJ Howell, D-Missoula, and Montana’s first openly nonbinary lawmaker. “They deserve the dignity and the respect and the equal treatment under the law that all Montanans deserve. And SB 99 absolutely is an affront to that.”
For the second consecutive legislative session, advocates for LGBTQ civil rights are gearing up to protest a bill restricting transgender health care, as well as other proposals they say would discriminate against and further stigmatize LGBTQ people.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. John Fuller, R-Kalispell, mimics bans on gender-affirming care for youth passed in other states. Some of those, including laws passed in Arkansas and Alabama, have been blocked in federal court. A recent report by the national advocacy group Human Rights Campaign found that 22.9% of transgender youth live in a state that has passed bans on care. Another 27.5% of that demographic could stand to lose access to care if states, including Montana, approve legislation that is currently pending.
On Friday, hours before House lawmakers took their final vote on the bill, LGBTQ civil rights groups announced their intent to sue on behalf of transgender minors if SB 99 is enacted, calling the legislation a ban on the only evidence-based treatments for gender dysphoria in youth.
“Montana lawmakers seem hellbent on joining the growing roster of states determined to jeopardize the health and lives of transgender youth, in direct opposition to the overwhelming body of scientific and medical evidence supporting this care as appropriate and necessary,” said the release from Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Montana. “Transgender youth in Montana deserve the support and care necessary to give them the same chance to thrive as their peers.”
A spokesperson for the governor’s office did not answer specific questions about Gianforte’s stance on SB 99, but said the governor will “carefully consider” bills the Legislature sends to his desk. Gianforte could sign or veto the bill, or allow it to become law without his signature.
Families with transgender children have expressed frustration and uncertainty about their future in the state if SB 99 takes effect.
Poe Hamilton, a Manhattan resident who turns 14 this weekend, said on Friday that they would prefer to spend time and energy being a kid instead of worrying about how they will continue to access medical care to treat gender dysphoria. They also pushed back against Republican portrayals of SB 99 as helping trans youth — Hamilton said they wished more lawmakers had listened to the experiences of kids who would be impacted by SB 99.
“If I’m going to make a major decision, I’m going to sit down and talk to the people who it might affect. Because otherwise, what good is it?” Hamilton said. “It’s just someone who isn’t in this situation trying to make a decision for people who are.”
Hamilton’s parents said they are fortunate to have an “exit plan” — the ability to move to another state if and when the time is right. Other families don’t have that luxury, they said.
“Do we uproot and leave the state? That’s something that we have to consider and it sucks because our kids are sixth-generation Montanans,” said Callie, Hamilton’s mom. “Our family’s here, we have jobs we love, our friends are here, we’re involved in the community. It flips your whole life upside down.”
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