What we’re seeing now as states fall one by one to anti-transgender laws actually goes back to an email sent by a conservative state representative hoping to make it a felony for physicians to offer gender-affirming care to transgender minors.
According to exclusive reporting by Mother Jones, in 2019, South Dakota Republican state Rep. Fred Deutsch sent an email to 18 anti-trans activists, doctors, and lawyers with the content of a bill he wanted to put forth. That email set off a cataclysm of nefarious movements by those in the anti-transgender movement that are just now becoming a reality.
“I have no doubt this will be an uphill battle when we get to session … As always, please do not share this with the media. The longer we can fly under the radar, the better,” Deutsch wrote, according to documents obtained by Mother Jones.
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Deutsch was appealing for support for his “Vulnerable Child Protection Act (VCPA)” from such notorious groups as the Georgia-based law firm Child & Parental Rights Campaign, the conservative Christian legal powerhouse Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a conservative doctors group called the American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds), and the Eagle Forum, a conservative group founded by Phyllis Schlafly in 1972.
Deutsch’s VCPA ultimately failed in the state Senate after a group of doctors showed up to advocate for the legality and ethics of providing gender-affirming care.
At the time, Margaret Clarke, general counsel for the Alabama branch of the Eagle Forum, dismissed Deutsch’s loss, saying, “You successfully inspired, encouraged, and counseled numerous VCAP [sic] efforts around the country. You established the ideal witness list that we are all still following in our individual states … And, most importantly, you connected us all to each other. This is just the beginning.”
And Clarke was correct. The mantle of Deutsch’s proposed measure has been taken up by six states which have already banned gender-affirming care for people under 18, with at least 21 others considering similar anti-trans health care bills in 2023, according to the ACLU. Deutsch’s initial bill may have failed, but it became a kind of template for anti-trans laws.
Activist and writer Erin Reed, who tracks anti-trans legislation, told Mother Jones, “They’ve very much increased sophistication since then, but the roots are there,” adding that the issue is especially complex as these conservative groups come from outside. “This isn’t coming from an in-state grassroots support system,” Reed says.
These are also some of the same groups that oppose abortion and same-sex marriage, Mother Jones reports.
The emails show a concerted effort to assemble anti-trans doctors as witnesses and recruit transgender people willing to refute their own gender identity experiences. And in the years since 2019, there’s been progress made to punish and outlaw doctors who provide gender-affirming care.
In 2022, a bill dubbed the “Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act” was signed into law in Alabama. It’s the second in the nation, following one in Arkansas in 2021, to ban gender-affirming care and criminalize doctors who provide it, per Mother Jones.
The good news is the Justice Department sued the state of Alabama, calling the law unconstitutional.
Filed in U.S. District Court in Alabama in April 2022, the complaint argues that the law violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause "by discriminating on the basis of sex and transgender status."
The law “would force parents of transgender minors, medical professionals, and others to choose between forgoing medically necessary procedures and treatments, or facing criminal prosecution,” a statement from the Justice Department reads.
In February, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem signed a bill that can take away a doctor’s license if they provide minors with gender-affirming care. It additionally forces health care providers to gradually cut off puberty blockers and hormones for any kids they are already treating.
Following Noem’s signature of the bill, Deutsch posted this on his Twitter page: “This concludes the effort I began three years ago… Many good people have worked to protect our children.”
A large-scale study by The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth, found that “transgender and nonbinary youth were 2 to 2.5 times as likely to experience depressive symptoms, seriously consider suicide, and attempt suicide compared to their cisgender LGBQ peers.”
Dr. Amy Green, vice president of research at The Trevor Project, told Forbes, “This study emphasizes the potential benefits of gender-affirming hormone therapy as a mechanism to reduce feelings of gender dysphoria and minority stress among transgender and nonbinary youth—thereby working to improve mental health outcomes and prevent suicide … These data should serve as a call to action to resist blanket bans on gender-affirming medical care and to invest in more research on this topic so that youth and their families can make evidence-informed decisions regarding care.”