Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte on Friday signed a ban on gender-affirming medical treatments for transgender minors, making the state one of at least 11 that have passed similar laws this year.
Senate Bill 99, sponsored by Sen. John Fuller, R-Whitefish, is slated to take effect Oct. 1. If enacted, the new law will prohibit health care providers from providing puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and a variety of surgeries to minors for the purposes of treating gender dysphoria. The bill makes exceptions for people receiving any of the listed services for the purposes of treating specific disorders of sex development.
The policy is part of a nationwide Republican agenda to restrict transition-related health care for transgender, nonbinary and two spirit people, most often applied specifically to minors. Montana’s bill consistently passed committee and floor votes along party lines. In a statement about the bill signing, Fuller said he is grateful for the bill signing and that the governor is “supporting the health and safety of Montana’s children.”
Opponents of the legislation, including LGBTQ+ advocacy coalitions, civil rights groups and medical associations, criticized the governor’s decision Friday. The ACLU of Montana and other legal groups had previously pledged to try to block SB 99 in the courts, calling it “anti-science and discriminatory fear-mongering.” The organization doubled down on that stance in response to Gianforte’s decision.
“See you in court,” ACLU of Montana staff attorney Akilah Deernose said about SB 99 in a text message to MTFP Friday.
In late March, David Gianforte made an appointment to talk about three bills with Montana’s Republican governor, Greg Gianforte, who happens to be his father. David, 32, sat down in the governor’s office on March 27 with a prepared statement about legislation affecting transgender Montanans and the LGBTQ+ community generally, to which David says he belongs.
Republicans in Montana, conservative advocacy groups and members of the public who supported SB 99 repeatedly cast it as a necessary restriction on experimental and risky gender-affirming care. Those assertions have been refuted by major medical associations in Montana and nationwide that endorse the targeted medical services as part of a range of evidence-based best practices for supporting people whose gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth.
In a statement last month, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health and its U.S. affiliate, the leading organization that sets industry standards for care, said the wave of medical restrictions advancing around the country is geared toward “eliminating transgender persons on a micro and macro scale.”
“If and when these laws are enacted, they will undoubtedly lead to further harm for transgender and gender diverse people seeking this lifesaving care; these laws offer no protection in any way, shape, or form,” said U.S. Professional Association for Transgender Health Care President Dr. Maddie Deutsch.
The Montana House of Representatives has voted on party lines to discipline Missoula Democratic Rep. Zooey Zephyr, barring her from the chamber’s floor, anteroom and gallery for the remaining few days of the 68th Montana Legislature.
Montana medical providers opposed to SB 99 stressed Friday that the treatments listed in the bill will remain legal until October, and possibly later if the law is blocked in court.
“My bottom line to families is that this care remains legal,” said Dr. Kathryn Lowe, a Bozeman pediatrician and member of the Montana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “To all the families who are panicking, who are moving, who are listing their houses to sell … we have great hope that [SB 99] will never take effect.”
Gianforte’s decision came during a week of protest and upheaval at the Montana Legislature related to SB 99 and other bills affecting transgender people. Montana Free Press reported Wednesday that Gianforte’s second-oldest child, David Gianforte, identifies as nonbinary and has lobbied their father to veto the legislation. In late March, according to a statement shared with MTFP, David told their father that SB 99 and other bills were “immoral, unjust, and frankly a violation of human rights.”
Rep. Zooey Zephyr, D-Missoula, and one of the state’s first openly transgender lawmakers, brought national focus to Montana after saying last week that lawmakers who voted for Gianforte’s version of the legislation would see “blood on their hands,” alluding to increased rates of suicide among transgender youth. She was then blocked from speaking on the House floor, leading to protests and arrests in the House chamber on Monday and subsequent punishment by House Republicans for her actions during the demonstration.
Zephyr spoke out against the new law Friday, saying she had hoped the governor would listen to David Gianforte’s input and realize the harm the bill will do. Despite the governor’s decision, Zephyr said, she has hope that the law will fail to pass legal muster.
“These bills are as cruel as they are unconstitutional,” she said. “And I have no doubt that they will go down in court. But at this moment we have to care for our communities given that the government has failed to do so.”
Other transgender organizers echoed that sentiment Friday in response to Gianforte’s decision.
“There’s so much support in our communities for trans people and trans youth. And I feel very confident that the people who are in this fight are in it for the long haul and will not stop until Montana is the type of place where all of us can live the lives that we want to,” said Izzy Milch, an organizer with the progressive advocacy group Forward Montana. “The most important thing there is that trans people have been in Montana forever and will be in Montana forever.”
Low-income families that need safety-net services, such as food and cash assistance, have become collateral damage in the bureaucratic scramble to determine whether tens of millions of people still qualify for Medicaid after a pandemic-era freeze on disenrollment ended this spring.
The decision to list wolverines under the Endangered Species Act comes nearly 30 years after conservation groups first proposed federal protections for the elusive, snow-dependent carnivores.
Cascade County officials have still not certified the results of municipal elections in three towns, prompting renewed calls for a change in who administers elections in and around Great Falls.