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Advocates prepare for fight as anti-trans youth legislation advances in S.D.

ACLU is planning lawsuit to block enforcement of state law

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trans youth, gay news, Washington Blade

The South Dakota legislature is considering a bill to criminalize transition-related care for trans youth. (Photo by Dk4hb; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Transgender advocates are beginning to fret — and plan litigation — as a new kind of anti-trans legislation has begun to advance in state legislatures aimed at criminalizing transition-related care for trans youth, including one measure that is halfway to becoming law in South Dakota.

Introduced in more than a dozen states at the start of the legislative session this year, the anti-trans legislation was a major point of discussion at a transgender rights panel Tuesday in D.C. hosted by the American Constitution Society.

Harper Jean Tobin, director of policy for the National Center for Transgender Equality said those bills — along with other measures seeking to inhibit participation of transgender kids in sports — represent anti-LGBTQ groups’ latest efforts to thwart LGBTQ rights after previous failures.

“Anti-LGBT groups realize that whatever they’re trying to scare people [with] lately is becoming less effective and so they find a new scary,” Tobin said. “After marriage equality became less effective as a thing to scare people about, I think it was trans people in general. That’s become a little bit less effective. It was bathrooms, and that’s become a little bit less effective, Now it’s, oh my gosh, trans young people in healthcare and trans people in sports.”

In South Dakota, the state House on Wednesday approved legislation known as House Bill 1057, which would criminalize providing transition-related care to youth, including puberty blockers and gender reassignment surgery, making them a Class 1 felony. The penalty would be a maximum of a year in prison and a fine of up to $2,000.

Since its introduction, the bill was amended to reduce its scope to youth under age 16 as opposed to all minors up to age 18, and the penalty was reduced from Class 4 felony to a Class 1 felony. The bill, nonetheless, still carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a maximum $2,000 fine. (Tobin referred to the changes to the bill as “small tweaks that are trying to make it seem less awful.”)

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, commended the South Dakota lawmakers for passing the legislation in an email blast this week to supporters.

“At one time, using cross-sex hormones or performing gender reassignment surgery on minors was rare,” Perkins said. “Now, however, these procedures are also being done at younger and younger ages, making bills like HB 1057 urgent. Cross-sex hormones are associated with a higher risk of heart attacks and blood clots, infertility, loss of bone density, and sexual dysfunction.”

The legislation, introduced by State Rep. Fred Deutsch, passed in the South Dakota house by a vote of 46-23 and now heads to the state Senate, which already has plans to advance the bill. A committee hearing could happen as soon as this week, according to the Washington Post.

Alexis Chavez, medical director for the Trevor Project, condemned the passage of the legislation in a statement shortly after its passage.

“This bill actively contradicts evidence-based medical recommendations and restricts parents’ ability to support their child with best-practice care, which has been shown to decrease suicide risk,” Chavez said. “Medical decisions should be made between doctors and their families — politicians have no role in this intensely personal process.”

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, hasn’t indicated whether she will sign or veto it. The Blade has placed a request in with her office seeking comment.

If the South Dakota bill becomes law, anti-trans groups would likely see it as a roadmap to proceed in other states. To head that off, a major transgender rights campaign would likely emerge to convince Noem to veto the bill should it reach her desk.

“There are signs the playbook for post-North Carolina HB 2 is somewhat applicable here in that the South Dakota State Medical Association and Chamber of Commerce have both come out against that legislation, as has the American Medical Association,” Tobin said.

According to a list compiled by Human Rights Watch, more than a dozen bills that would criminalize providing transition-related care to transgender youth are pending before state legislatures.

Bills in Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire and South Dakota would criminalize the care, while legislation in Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma and South Carolina would institute professional discipline, such as revocation of licenses. Lawmakers in Georgia, Texas and Utah have also signaled they’ll introduce similar legislation.

Because all these bills are similar, transgender advocates are looking to the usual suspects of anti-LGBTQ groups, such as the Heritage Foundation and Alliance Defending Freedom, as their source.

Tobin pointed out Deutsch introduced the legislation in South Dakota after flying to D.C. on the taxpayers’ dime for a Heritage Foundation event on “the sexualization of children.”

“They had a panel all about how we have to stop kids from being trans because that somehow is the sexualization of children,” Tobin said. “And this state legislator — apparently several others — came home with this great idea that had been pitched to them at this conference panel, which was let’s make it a crime to provide health care to trans kids.”

Conservative pundits and lawmakers are whipping up support for the legislation by drawing on the recent spike in youth identifying as transgender and stories of youth who underwent a gender transition process, but later expressed regret over the decision. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control has revealed in a recent report puberty blockers can reduce suicide rates of transgender teens, who have high rates of suicidal ideation.

Sharita Gruberg, director of policy for LGBTQ research and communications at the Center for American Progress, said the lawmakers and anti-LGBTQ forces raising concerns are distorting the record.

“It’s always funny to me what the right thinks medical care looks like for trans people,” Gruberg said. “Like the idea that there are doctors who are prescribing surgical care for minors is a widespread thing is absurd, but I think that’s something that’s like latched on in the public imagination as like when we’re talking about what health care for trans youth looks like.”

Meanwhile in other states, including New Hampshire, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, Tennessee and Washington State, legislation is pending that would restrict the ability of transgender kids to participate in school sports consistent with their gender identity.

Tobin said the sports bills have a unique way of eliciting sympathy because the public has assumptions of athletic performance based on sex, which is difficult to dissuade.

“People think that they understand the relationship between bodies and gender, and especially hormones,” Tobin said. “We talk about sex hormones, even though everyone’s body has testosterone, you can’t ovulate without testosterone, but we still call it a male sex hormone associated with maleness and more of it means you’re born male. We believe that it’s a primary factor in athletic performance across all the different sports that involve a huge variety of different physical skills, and the science doesn’t support that.”

Much of this anti-trans legislation seems based on a situation in Connecticut in which two transgender teens outperformed female athletes in a track event, which excluded the other racers from potential sports scholarships. Alliance Defending Freedom has spearheaded a complaint against the state athletic association in Connecticut, which the Department of Education has agreed to take up.

Gruberg pointed out the transgender athletes in Connecticut were black and girls behind the complaint are white, so race is in play.

“When we’re talking about integrating sports, these are similar arguments that have been made in the past,” Gruberg said. “I don’t want to erase the racial lens either that our opponents are using as they’re attacking trans people’s participation. There’s certain people — who counts as a woman, who is able to — has a lot of dimensions and they’re picking their spokespeople and the woman who placed eighth and could have placed sixth is also white.”

If all else fails and the bills become law, plans are already underway for litigation to enjoin the states from enforcing the anti-trans bills.

Chase Strangio, a transgender advocate and staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said litigation is being planned in South Dakota, which could be followed by other lawsuits.

“We are prepared to file suit in South Dakota should HB 1057 pass and get signed into law and will continue to assess litigation options in any state where a ban on gender affirming care is pending,” Strangio said. “These measures are a direct attack on the ability of transgender young people to survive and raise serious Equal Protection and Due Process concerns for young people and their parents. I have no doubt that any state that passes one of these laws will have to contend with significant litigation and legal liability on multiple fronts.”

But there’s no assurances the litigation would ultimately be successful in court, especially in the aftermath of President Trump remaking the judiciary with a record breaking number of Senate-confirmed conservative appointments.

At the ACS panel, the Blade asked whether there was any consideration to reaching out to lawmakers behind the bills to craft different legislation that would codify the process by which doctors prescribe transition-related care to youth, thereby allowing lawmakers to say they voted for a ban and trans advocates to say were able to codify the medical process.

Tobin, however, didn’t like that idea, pointing out states already have in place medical malpractice laws that cover a situation in which doctors violate best practices. Further, she said the proposal “is usually a non-starter” for sponsors of the bills pending before legislatures.

“That would be a bad idea, I think, the idea that you’re going to codify into law and especially with the criminal offense what the standard of care is rather than allow, as happens with the rest of the practice of medicine, the standards of care to evolve over time and be defined and updated by the different medical associations, and not have 57 jurisdictions have to update their codes every time clinical guidelines are updated and so forth,” Tobin said. “The Criminal Code is not a place where we should be defining the medical standard of care, we already have laws for that.”

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Vigil held after Wilton Manors Pride parade accident

Fort Lauderdale mayor expressed ‘regret’ over initial terrorism claim

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A vigil in the wake of the accident at the Stonewall Pride Parade took place at the Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on June 20, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — More than 100 people on Sunday attended a prayer vigil in the wake of an accident at a Wilton Manors Pride parade that left one person dead and another injured.

The vigil took place at the Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale.

Clergy joined activists and local officials at a vigil at the Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on June 20, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

A 77-year-old man who was driving a pickup truck struck two men near the Stonewall Pride Parade’s staging area shortly before 7 p.m. on Saturday. One of the victims died a short time later at a Fort Lauderdale hospital.

The pickup truck narrowly missed U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who was in a convertible participating in the parade, and Florida Congressman Ted Deutch.

The driver of the pickup truck and the two men he hit are members of the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus. The Fort Lauderdale Police Department on Sunday described the incident as a “fatal traffic crash” and not a terrorism incident as Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis initially claimed.

“As we were about to begin the parade, this pickup truck, this jacked up white pickup truck, dashed across, breaking through the line, hitting people, all of us that were there could not believe our eyes,” said Trantalis as he spoke at the vigil.

Trantalis noted the pickup truck nearly hit Wasserman Schultz. He also referenced the arrest of a 20-year-old supporter of former President Trump earlier in the week after he allegedly vandalized a Pride flag mural that had been painted in an intersection in Delray Beach, which is roughly 30 miles north of Fort Lauderdale.

“I immediately knew that something terrible was happening,” said Trantalis, referring to the Stonewall Pride Parade accident. “My visceral reaction was that we were being attacked. Why not? Why not feel that way?”

“I guess I should watch to make sure there are no reporters standing by when I have those feelings, but that was my first reaction and I regret the fact that I said it was a terrorist attack because we found out that it was not, but I don’t regret my feelings,” he added. “But I don’t regret that I felt terrorized by someone who plowed through the crowd inches away from the congresswoman and the congressman, myself and others.”

Trantalis also told vigil attendees that “I guess we forgive” the pickup truck driver.

“But I regret that his consequences resulted in the death of an individual who was innocent and who was there to have a good time, like the rest of us, and I regret there is a man who is in serious condition … fighting for his life and there,” added Trantalis.

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Veterans Affairs to provide gender-confirmation surgery reversing 2013 ban

McDonough said that he pledged to overcome a “dark history” of discrimination and expand access to care for transgender veterans

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The new Orlando VA Medical Center at Lake Nona (Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs )

ORLANDO – U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough announced his Department is moving to provide gender-confirmation surgery through its health care coverage reversing a 2013 ban on those surgical procedures.

Speaking at a Pride Month event at the Orlando VA Healthcare System Saturday, McDonough said that he pledged to overcome a “dark history” of discrimination and take steps to expand access to care for transgender veterans.

With this commitment McDonough said he seeks to allow “transgender vets to go through the full gender confirmation process with VA by their side,” McDonough said. “We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do, but because they can save lives,” he added.

The process to roll-back the restrictions may take upwards of two years. The federal rulemaking process, expected to begin this summer, will include a period for public comment, spokesman Terrence Hayes told The Washington Post on Saturday.

“This time will allow VA to develop capacity to meet the surgical needs that transgender veterans have called for and deserved for a long time,” McDonough said in his remarks. “and I am proud to begin the process of delivering it,” he added.

On February 8, 2013, the VA issued a directive that stated that the VA Healthcare System does not provide sex reassignment surgery. This directive sought to clarify a previous VA directive issued June 9, 2011, “Providing Healthcare for Transgender and Intersex Veterans,” which established the provision of hormone therapy, gender-related mental health counseling, and other transition-related services through the VA, as well as a mandate that the VA health system provides care “without discrimination and in a manner … consistent with the Veteran’s self-identified gender.”

“This directive, however, does not include coverage of surgical procedures although the VA does provide transgender veterans with pre- and postoperative care.”

The outcome was that the directive(s) effectively prevented transgender veterans from a surgery considered medically necessary by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.

38 CFR § 17.38 Medical benefits package, is the specific federal code that makes provisions for veterans healthcare, which Section (b) clearly defines as; “Care referred to in the “medical benefits package” will be provided to individuals only if it is determined by appropriate health care professionals that the care is needed to promote, preserve, or restore the health of the individual and is in accord with generally accepted standards of medical practice.”

However, 38 CFR § 17.38 does limit care for transgender veteran’s stating: “(c) In addition to the care specifically excluded from the “medical benefits package” under paragraphs (a) and (b) of this section, the “medical benefits package” does not include the following: […] ‘(4) Gender alterations.'”

McDonough noted that changes “will require changing VA’s regulations and establishing policy that will ensure the equitable treatment and safety” of all transgender veterans.

“There are several steps to take, which will take time. But we are moving ahead, methodically, because we want this important change in policy to be implemented in a manner that has been thoroughly considered to ensure that the services made available to veterans meet VA’s rigorous standards for quality health care.”

In a study related to the 2011 and 2013 directives, the VA noted that research showed that the transgender population in general experiences severe physical and mental health disparities, compared to the cisgender population, including high rates of HIV, suicidality, depression, anxiety, and mental health-related hospitalization.

Studies have found that these disparities are even more glaring among transgender veterans. In a survey of transgender veterans and transgender active-duty service members, transgender veterans reported several mental health diagnoses, including depression (65%), anxiety (41%), PTSD (31%), and substance abuse (16%).  In a study examining VHA patient records from 2000 to 2011 (before the 2011 VHA directive), the rate of suicide-related events among veterans with a gender identity disorder (GID) diagnoses was found to be 20 times higher than that of the general VHA patient population.

McDonough acknowledged the VA research pointing out that in addition to psychological distress, trans veterans also may experience prejudice and stigma. About 80 percent of trans veterans have encountered a hurtful or rejecting experience in the military because of their gender identity.

“LGBTQ+ veterans experience mental illness and suicidal thoughts at far higher rates than those outside their community,” McDonough said. “But they are significantly less likely to seek routine care, largely because they fear discrimination.

“At VA, we’re doing everything in our power to show veterans of all sexual orientations and gender identities that they can talk openly, honestly and comfortably with their health care providers about any issues they may be experiencing,” he added.

All VA facilities have had a local LGBTQ Veteran Care Coordinator responsible for helping those veterans connect to available services since 2016.

“We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do but because they can save lives,” McDonough said. He added that the VA would also change the name of the Veterans Health Administration’s LGBT health program to the LGBTQ+ Health Program to reflect greater inclusiveness.

Much of the push for better access to healthcare and for recognition of the trans community is a result of the polices of President Joe Biden, who reversed the ban on Trans military enacted under former President Trump, expanding protections for transgender students and revived anti-bias safeguards in health care for transgender Americans.

U. S. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-CA, who is openly gay, issued a statement applauding McDonough’s actions.

“Veterans in need of gender confirmation surgery should not have to seek healthcare outside of the VA health system or navigate complicated processes to get the care they need,” Takano said. “VA must be inclusive of all veterans who have served, regardless of their identity.”

The Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Jon Tester, D-MT also approved of the expansion of health care offerings for trans veterans.

“Every service member and veteran deserves equal access to quality care from VA, and this includes our LGBTQ+ veterans,” Tester said in a statement. “We must reaffirm our commitment to making VA a more welcoming place for everyone who fought to protect our freedoms.”

Gina Duncan, director of transgender equality for the statewide LGBTQ civil rights organization Equality Florida, told the Orlando Sentinel that her agency was “thrilled to have allies at the highest level of government” and noted the contrast with recent moves by the Florida Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis to limit transgender youth participation in school sports.

“In a moment of fierce state and local backlash against the transgender community, this move by the Biden Administration is a reminder that elections matter,” Duncan said. “Support for transgender veterans and the lifesaving healthcare they need to live authentically is a critical component to fulfilling our nation’s promise of caring for those who’ve served.”

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Washington D.C. (Photo Credit: GSA U.S. Government)
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Police describe Wilton Manors Pride incident as ‘fatal traffic crash’

Pickup truck driver identified as 77-year-old man

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A screenshot from a video taken at the scene by Joey Spears. (Image courtesy of @pinto_spears, via Twitter.) Screenshot used with permission from South Florida Gay News.

WILTON MANORS, Fla. — The Fort Lauderdale Police Department on Sunday released additional information about an incident at a Wilton Manors Pride parade that left one person dead and another injured.

A press release notes a 77-year-old man who was “a participant who had ailments preventing him from walking the duration of the parade and was selected to drive as the lead vehicle” was behind the wheel of a 2011 white Dodge Ram pickup truck that struck the two people near the Stonewall Pride Parade’s staging area shortly before 7 p.m. on Saturday.

“As the vehicle began to move forward in anticipation for the start of the parade, the vehicle accelerated unexpectedly, striking two pedestrians,” reads the press release. “After striking the pedestrians, the driver continued across all lanes of traffic, ultimately crashing into the fence of a business on the west side of the street.”

“The driver remained on scene and has been cooperative with investigators for the duration of the investigation,” further notes the press release. “A DUI investigation of the driver was conducted on scene and showed no signs of impairment.”

The press release confirms the driver and the two people he hit are members of the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus.

Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue transported both victims to Broward Health Medical Center “with serious injuries.” The press release notes one of the victims died shortly after he arrived at the hospital.

The Fort Lauderdale Police Department, which is leading the investigation, has not publicly identified the victims and the driver, but the press release describes the incident as a “fatal traffic crash.” The press release notes the second victim remains hospitalized at Broward Health Medical Center, but “is expected to survive.”

“While no arrests have been made, the Fort Lauderdale Police Department continues to investigate this incident and will not be releasing the names of the involved parties due to the status of the investigation,” says the press release. “The Fort Lauderdale Police Department asks anyone who may have witnessed this incident, who has not already spoken to investigators, to contact Traffic Homicide Investigator Paul Williams at (954) 828-5755.”

The pickup truck narrowly avoided U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who was in a convertible participating in the parade. Florida Congressman Ted Deutch was also nearby.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the tragic accident that occurred when the Stonewall Pride Parade was just getting started,” said Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus President Justin Knight in a statement he issued after the incident. “Our fellow chorus members were those injured and the driver was also part of the chorus family.”

“To my knowledge, this was not an attack on the LGBTQ community,” added Knight. “We anticipate more details to follow and ask for the community’s love and support.”

Fort Lauderdale mayor initially described incident as anti-LGBTQ ‘terrorist attack’

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis initially described the incident as “a terrorist attack against the LGBT community,” without any official confirmation. Detective Ali Adamson of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department on Saturday confirmed to reporters that investigators are “working with” the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but stressed the “investigation is active and we are considering and evaluating all possibilities.”

“Last evening, at the start of what was to be a celebration of pride for the LGBT community and commemoration of our hard-won victories for equality, our community faced the worst of tragedies. The grief of our LGBT community — and greater Fort Lauderdale as a whole — is palpable,” said Trantalis on Sunday in a statement he posted to his Facebook page.

“I was an eyewitness to the horrifying events. It terrorized me and all around me. I reported what I saw to law enforcement and had strong concerns about what transpired — concerns for the safety of my community. I feared it could be intentional based on what I saw from mere feet away,” he added.

Trantalis added “law enforcement took what appeared obvious to me and others nearby and investigated further — as is their job.”

“As the facts continue to be pieced together, a picture is emerging of an accident in which a truck careened out of control,” he said. “As a result, one man died, two others were injured and the lives of two members of Congress were at risk. My heart breaks for all impacted by this tragedy.”

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