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Wyoming’s ban on gender-affirming care for minors advances

Senate File 99 would ban surgery, puberty blockers and hormone therapies as forms of gender-affirming care for minors. Backers say such treatments should wait, but critics argue a ban represents government intrusion on medical decisions.

Sen. Anthony Bouchard (R-Cheyenne) on the Senate floor. (Ashton J. Hacke/Wyofile)

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by Madelyn Beck, WyoFile

CHEYENNE—Young people diagnosed with gender dysphoria may soon have far fewer treatment options in Wyoming.

Senate File 99 – Children gender change prohibition would ban the use of surgeries, hormonal treatments and puberty blockers as forms of gender-affirming care for minors in Wyoming. Originally called “Chloe’s law,” it was named after a woman who received double mastectomy as a child in California and later regretted it. The House Judiciary Committee amended the bill Monday to delete her name, largely because lawmakers avoid using living people’s names in bills and the namesake didn’t have her surgery in Wyoming.

Rep. Ember Oakley (R-Riverton) also brought an amendment clarifying the kind of care the bill regulates. “Recognizing that gender dysphoria is a medical condition, nothing in this article shall be construed to interfere with psychological or psychiatric care,” the amendment states.

Ultimately, the committee approved the bill on a 7-2 vote Monday afternoon. Later in the day, it passed a first reading on the House floor. 

Ahead of the committee vote, lawmakers heard from supporters and opponents of the ban. Advocates of the regulation say such treatments should wait until a person is an adult and more broadly questioned trangender identities in the first place. Critics of the ban say doctors should be able to provide medical treatments backed by major medical organizations without government interference.

Opposition to the bill

The bill does list some exceptions to the ban — like treating precocious puberty and genetic sex development disorders — but opponents say the list isn’t comprehensive enough.

“It puts physicians in conflict,” said Dr. Joseph Horam, a long-time Cheyenne pediatrician who opposed the ban. “Some of the disorders that are listed in the bill — like the congenital disorders at birth, like the precocious puberty — well that’s just a small segment. There’s a large list. And we need to have a bill that addresses a further spectrum of those disorders to allow for physician comfort.”

That can affect recruitment of health care providers, he said, especially if they fear being punished for trying to help someone with a disorder that’s not listed as an exception. 

Dr. Liam Clark, a neurologist at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, said he was offended by the insinuation in the bill — and claims by lawmakers supportive of the legislation — that health care providers are abusing children.

“I feel like I sat through that presentation and myself and my colleagues have all been accused of being child abusers and child traffickers and doing all these terrible things,” Clark said. “Obviously as doctors, we have the care for the patient at heart.”

Others who oppose the legislation say the bill is not based on scientific evidence and inserts the government into a decision that should be left to families and doctors to make about necessary treatment per medical guidance. 

“I’m the proud father of four amazing teenagers, and it just so happens that one of those teenagers is trans,” ban opponent Michael Christoffersen testified. “Contrary to what the sponsor of this bill would like you to believe, the day my child came out to me and my wife, we did not call and book the operating room. We didn’t call and automatically call and put them on hormone therapy or suppressants.”

It’s a complex topic and something he didn’t take lightly, he said. 

“What did we decide in regard to the child’s health care?” he asked. “The answer to that question is exactly what I want you to take away from my brief testimony: It’s none of your business.” 

Abby Kircher agreed.

“As a parent of a non-binary child — now an adult — this is an attack on my rights as a mother to make necessary health care decisions for my child,” she testified, noting that it was a yearslong process of helping her child.

Tens of thousands of medical professionals back the use of gender-affirming care for minors, which ranges from therapy to surgical intervention. That includes the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Endocrine Society, among others.

“As a parent of a non-binary child — now an adult — this is an attack on my rights as a mother to make necessary health care decisions for my child.” ABBY KIRCHER

As WyoFile wrote last year, research shows youth with gender dysphoria who don’t receive gender-affirming care statistically have worse mental health and double the rate of suicidal thoughts and attempts compared to youth who do.

While there’s broad agreement that gender-affirming surgeries are not being done in Wyoming, there is use of hormones and puberty blockers, Dr. Horam said. 

Many times, those treatments start at medical centers outside of Wyoming, and are continued by local physicians, he said.

Treatment also originates in Wyoming, Horam added, but it’s a “small number.”

The support

Supporters for SF 99 held firm in their beliefs that this ban is necessary to prevent child abuse. 

“This bill is designed to protect our children until they become mature adults,” commenter Gary Brown said. “Make no mistake, this is child abuse. These children need to have a time to be children.”

One man — an unnamed retired pediatrician — made the drive from Salt Lake City to tell the committee about how Europe was handling this issue and to share a systematic review of literature on gender-affirming care. To him, these things show that the U.S. should crack down more on this kind of treatment of minors. 

The reality of how European nations are regulating gender-affirming care for kids is complicated, though mostly less stringent than proposals like SF 99. 

As for the review, it is part of a larger, international call for more research on the most effective and appropriate long-term gender-affirming treatments for minors. However, like any other study, it acknowledges limitations, like time frame, an imperfect rating system and having to narrow what it reviewed.

“The addition of parameters regarding type of publication, upper age of participants, and the clinical verification of [gender dysphoria] naturally narrowed the pool of papers and therefore may have meant papers with important findings have been excluded,” the researchers wrote. 

Still others, like Sen. Lynn Hutchings (R-Cheyenne) say that gender-affirming care for minors is part of a mass societal delusion.

Sen. Lynn Hutchings (R-Cheyenne) during the 2024 budget session. (Ashton J. Hacke/Wyofile)

“We’re living in a day of deception,” she said. “We all know that no one has been able to change a male into a female or a female into a male.”

While many Western cultures have ascribed to a belief that biological sex determines a person’s gender, societies around the world have long celebrated a more diverse gender spectrum. In more recent times, researchers have come to the same conclusion, but not without ideological backlash.  

“This has been a big push from the left,” bill sponsor Sen. Anthony Bouchard (R-Cheyenne) said of minors identifying as a different gender. “It just seems to me they want to sterilize children, they want to disrupt our society, links to cultural Marxism on what’s going on with this.”

“Cultural Marxism” is a far-right conspiracy theory — with antisemitic origins, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center — about a school of Jewish intellectuals who fled Nazi Germany. The theory, disproven by academics, states this group promoted movements like sexual liberation and immigration to undermine traditional Christian American values. 

Next, the bill will need to pass two more votes on the House floor before reaching the governor’s desk. 

This article was originally published by WyoFile and is republished here with permission. WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.