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Wyoming bans most gender-affirming medical care for children

Gov. Gordon signed the ban, yet called it, “straying into the personal affairs of families.”

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

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, you can call or text the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.

Wyoming will become the latest state to outlaw gender-affirming care for minors after Gov. Mark Gordon on Friday signed legislation banning most procedures and treatments.

“I signed SF 99 because I support the protections this bill includes for children, however it is my belief that the government is straying into the personal affairs of families,” Gordon said in a prepared statement. 

“Our Legislature needs to sort out its intentions with regard to parental rights. While it inserts governmental prerogative in some places, it affirms parental rights in others,” Gordon said, also noting that the Legislature passed two bills during the recent session reinforcing parental rights in education. 

Senate File 99 – Children gender change prohibition will bar young people diagnosed with gender dysphoria in Wyoming from treatment in the form of puberty blockers, hormone therapy or surgeries — the last of which aren’t performed in the state. 

In response to the legislation being signed into law, Wyoming Equality Executive Director Sara Burlingame said the organization “remains dismayed” that Gordon “avoided the hard work of charting a common sense course on healthcare for transgender students and their families.”

“There was an opportunity to find common cause on issues we agreed with: surgery for minors is inappropriate, other healthcare options per the Wyoming [C]onstitution (Article 1, [S]ection 38), should remain the purview of parents and their qualified physicians,” she said in a statement. 

Gordon’s decision to “embolden” the bill’s sponsor Sen. Anthony Bouchard (R-Cheyenne) and “his extreme agenda makes it harder for Wyoming families who are counting on their right to make healthcare decisions free of government overreach,” Burlingame added. 

Initially called “Chloe’s Law,” the bill was named after a woman who underwent a double mastectomy as a child in California and later regretted it. It succeeded in the Legislature this session amid growing hostility nationally among Republicans to treatments intended to address gender dysphoria in children.

The details

Groups like the Wyoming Medical Society signaled that they would support a ban on gender-affirming surgeries for minors, but argued a more expansive ban that also applies to hormone and puberty-blocking treatments is problematic for doctors working with kids who are struggling with acute gender dysphoria. 

Legislation supporters argued children weren’t old enough to make consequential decisions about their gender, and those decisions should be put off until adulthood.

“This bill is designed to protect our children until they become mature adults,” commenter Gary Brown said in the House Judiciary Committee.

Research shows youth with gender dysphoria who don’t receive gender-affirming care — which includes treatments ranging from therapy to puberty blockers — have worse mental health and double the rate of suicidal thoughts and attempts compared to those who do.

Trans people have the highest rates of suicide among any identified group, according to research and a national survey from 2015. About 40% of respondents said they had attempted suicide, and more than a third of those attempts happened by age 13.

As amended, SF 99 doesn’t preclude mental health treatment for minors with gender dysphoria. 

Cheyenne pediatrician Dr. Joseph Horam said in a House Judiciary Committee hearing that hormone and puberty blocker treatments are used in Wyoming, but are often started elsewhere. He also said exceptions in the bill — for genetic sex development disorders and precocious puberty — don’t include all the conditions that physicians may need to use these medications to treat. 

“We need to have a bill that addresses a further spectrum of those disorders to allow for physician comfort,” he said. 

Lawmakers also considered legislation targeting only gender-affirming surgeries, but it failed introduction in the House because members of the hard-line Wyoming Freedom Caucus said it didn’t go far enough to protect kids.

An attempted House amendment from Rep. Dan Zwonitzer (R-Cheyenne) would have made allowances for “any non-surgical medically necessary treatment that is a health care decision made with the consent of the child’s parent, guardian or legal representative.”

That amendment failed. 

Parents, doctors and advocates came out to fight the legislation in committee hearings, arguing that these medical decisions shouldn’t be dictated by the government. 

“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 testified.

Appropriate gender-affirming care for minors is supported by tens of thousands of medical professionals, including 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.

Meanwhile, many supporters of the bill — including sponsor Sen. Anthony Bouchard (R-Cheyenne) — equated gender-affirming care for minors with abuse. 

“This is an evil form of child abuse,” he said. “If they want to do that, let them wait until they’re 18 years old.”

It will go into effect in July. 

A similar ban on gender-affirming care in neighboring Idaho is still tied up in court after a federal judge blocked enforcement last year, citing violations of the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

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.