Opponents of a bill to ban or severely limit gender-affirming care for those under age 18 lined up to testify against it Wednesday, packing meeting rooms at the Ohio Statehouse.
Among the bill’s critics was Amy Schneider, a Dayton native and the first transgender person to qualify for the “Jeopardy!” Tournament of Champions.
“I believe that this bill would have devastating consequences for Ohio’s children,” Schneider said. Instead of protecting trans children it would put them in danger which some would not survive, she said.
The House Families, Aging & Human Services Committee held a fifth hearing on House Bill 454, dubbed the “Save Adolescents From Experimentation” or SAFE Act. It’s sponsored by state Reps. Gary Click, R-Vickery, and Diane Grendell, R-Chesterland; during Wednesday’s hearing Click replaced the original version with a substitute bill that watered down some of its provisions.
That didn’t mollify opponents: more than 280 people signed up to testify. Much of that was submitted in writing, but 49 sought to speak in person, according to the committee chair, state Rep. Susan Manchester, R-Waynesfield. With a speaking limit of five minutes each, the committee heard from 20 opponents in a two-hour hearing, adjourning a few minutes before a scheduled session of the full House.
In its original form the bill would have prohibited medical personnel, public or private, from helping minors transition; prohibit public funding to anyone who does so; and prohibit insurance and Medicaid from covering any gender-transition therapy or procedure for minors. It targeted “school nurses, counselors, teachers, principals, or other staff or officials,” requiring them to tell parents — even if those parents are potentially hostile — about a minor’s gender dysphoria.
Changes to bill
Click and Grendell introduced the bill in October 2021. It had four committee hearings between February and June.
Since then, Click said, he made quite a few concessions to the bill’s opponents.
“Those changes are an effort on my part to come to the middle,” he said.
Click said the substitute bill no longer prohibits prescription of hormone blockers or cross-sex hormones. It also removes the ability of third parties to sue healthcare providers for offering gender affirming care to minors, and now includes no mandates on mental health counselors in schools. Nor does the bill any longer prohibit health insurance companies from covering gender affirming care costs, Click said.
The latest version of the measure would allow hormone therapies and puberty blockers for minors only if they meet specific requirements, including being screened for abuse and mental health conditions. They also must have received at least two years of counseling related to gender dysphoria, mental health and the risks of gender transition.
Doctors could face professional discipline and civil lawsuits for violations if the bill is passed by the Republican-led Legislature and signed into law.
It now also includes a requirement for hospitals to collect data on gender affirming patients and treatment.
“We don’t know what it’ll look like. It could support our view, it could support the opposite view,” he said.
Answering a question from state Rep. Beth Liston, D-Dublin, Click said “members of (the Republican) caucus and the children’s hospitals” had worked on the new version of the bill.
Nick Lashutka, president of the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association, told committee members the new version was hastily developed without consulting children’s hospitals. He said his group had less than 24 hours to review the substitute bill and asked legislators to take time to study its implications carefully.
Lashutka said no gender affirming care occurs in Ohio children’s hospitals without parental involvement and consent. The effects of puberty-blocking drugs are reversible, he said.
Lashutka said it also doesn’t grandfather in people already taking puberty blockers, meaning if the bill passes many would have to stop taking them immediately.
Schneider said her life is “going great,” including her recent marriage.
“And yet if all those things remained just as they are right now and the only thing that changed was I was told I could no longer access hormone therapy, I don’t know that I could go on living,” she said.
Schneider said her trans identity was like a “quiet alarm” in her head from early childhood, which didn’t go quiet until she came out and received gender affirming care five years ago.
Trans youth deal with enough standard adolescent issues, and don’t need the added “wrongness and danger” of being denied gender affirming care, she said. The bill would also restrict the freedoms of families, doctors and communities, Schneider said.
State Rep. Latyna Humphrey, D-Columbus, asked if Schneider felt any regrets or had suicidal thoughts since receiving gender affirming care. No, Schneider replied.
“It has been honestly the best thing that has happened in my life,” improving it in ways she hadn’t thought possible, she said.
Speaker after speaker, mostly transgender or parents of trans kids, said gender affirming care was extremely helpful, not sought or provided lightly, and that no one “coerced” children into identifying as trans as some proponents claimed.
Several said this bill and other state policies discriminating against trans people would drive them and their families out of Ohio. As Ohio seeks to attract high-paying high-tech jobs, several opponents said, moves like passage of HB 454 would drive off the very skilled workers the state needs.
The Associated Press contributed to this report