Jenna Bellemere, a Lawrence resident, visited the Statehouse to speak against the proposed legislation. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Nineteen-year-old Jenna Bellemere said gender-affirming care saved her life as a young transgender teen struggling with her identity. But lawmakers are now debating legislation that could end similar care for transgender youths across the state.
Senate Bill 233, legislation that would effectively ban gender-affirming medication and surgery for Kansans under the age of 18 and punish physicians who prescribed it, was heard Tuesday by in the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee.
The bill would allow for civil suits against doctors who provided gender-affirming care for those under 18. It would also revoke the licenses of physicians who offered such care.
Beyond gender-transition surgery, the bill targets providing “testosterone to females,” “doses of estrogen to males,” and prescribing puberty-blocking medications to those under the required age.
“I have so much empathy for the people who are going through this and struggling because I’ve struggled in the same way,” Bellemere said. “The health care that this bill is trying to ban, it saved my life, unambiguously.”
During the hearing, out-of-state “de-transitioners” spoke in favor of the bill. Anti-transgender advocate Chloe Cole, a California woman who received a mastectomy as a teenager when she believed herself to be a trans man, testified during the hearing. Another activist, Prisha Mosley, who is from North Carolina, spoke to lawmakers about the harms of gender-affirming care.
Sen. Mike Thompson, a Shawnee Republican who co-introduced a previous version of the legislation, asked Mosley if she was coerced into transitioning as a teen.
“Do you believe you were groomed into making that decision?” Thompson said.
Mosley said she had been put on testosterone at 17, when she identified as a transgender man, and later had a mastectomy. Mosley said she regretted these choices, and was left with many health issues as a result of gender-affirming practices.
In an interview with the Reflector, Cole said she was getting reimbursed for travel expenses by Do No Harm, a group fighting gender-affirming care nationally.
When Moseley was asked about her funding, she said she wasn’t supposed to give out the name due to concerns about the group “being attacked.” She said it was funded by concerned parents nationwide.
“A lot of parents raised money and paid for it,” Mosley said, adding that parents struggled because they were frightened into letting their children transition for mental health purposes.
“They are told that if you don’t affirm your child, your child will kill themselves and it will be your fault,” Mosley said.
Bellemer said she felt bad for Mosley and Cole, but that their experiences didn’t reflect the vast majority of people who would be affected by the legislation.
“It’s telling that the only two people they could find to testify on this, they had to fly in,” Bellemere said.
Bellemere was one of many Kansans who showed up to speak against the bill. Dena Hubbard, a Kansas doctor who spoke on behalf of the Kansas chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said gender-affirming care for youths was crucial and supported by many health care organizations and professionals.
Other health groups, such as the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, have opposed similar legislation. They say banning gender-affirming care for transgender minors is damaging and not rooted in science.
“KAAP recommends that youth who identify as transgender have access to comprehensive, gender-affirming, and developmentally appropriate health care that is provided in a safe and inclusive clinical space,” Hubbard said.
SB 233 is one of several bills targeting transgender Kansans up for discussion this week, which has been dubbed “hate week” by House Democrats.
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