Utah's first transgender pride event held in Provo 02

Genderbands hosts the first Utah Transgender Pride on Saturday, Sep. 28, 2019, at Lions Park in Provo. Johnny Morris, Special for the Daily Herald

A bill that would ban doctors from performing gender reassignment surgeries or prescribing hormone therapies to minors stalled in the Utah House Health and Human Services Committee on Friday.

H.B. 92, which is co-sponsored by Rep. Rex Shipp, R-Cedar City and Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, would prohibit Utah physicians from “performing, or causing to be performed, a sex characteristic-altering procedure or medically unnecessary puberty inhibition procedure upon an individual who is younger than 18 years old,” according to the text of the bill.

The bill is similar to one that former Republican Orem Rep. Brad Daw considered introducing during the 2020 general session. Daw ultimately never introduced the bill.

“Puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones are harmful and cause permanent irreversible damage in these kids,” Shipp told his colleagues on Friday.

Shirley Cox, a professor of social work at Brigham Young University who spoke in favor of the bill, said she has spent years studying patients who are “very unhappy with sex change operations and chemical arrangements.”

“We know that children go through many phases,” Cox said. “They want to be an engineer, a fireman or whosoever, and they struggle with issues (and) family problems. And all of these things affect what they choose and what they want.”

But Nicole Mihalopoulos, an adolescent medicine doctor at the University of Utah, said Utah doctors follow guidelines from the World Professional Association for Transgender Health and Endocrine Society, which recommend treatment of severe gender dysphoria with “100% reversible puberty blockers after puberty has started” as a way “to allow adolescents to continue to explore their gender identity as they continue psychosocial development.”

Additionally, the guidelines recommend that transgender youth live in their affirmed gender for at least a year and meet with a mental health advisor “before starting medications that feminize or masculinize.”

Mihalopoulos, who called the bill “dangerous,” said she wanted to “clear up some fiction” that hormone therapies or using puberty blockers can cause irreversible damage when, to the contrary, research shows it to “improve mental health by decreasing depression, anxiety and suicidal behavior that occurs with severe gender dysphoria.”

“The bill, contradictory to strong medical evidence, is forcing transgender adolescents who are thriving in their affirmed gender identity to de-transition,” the adolescent doctor said. “This could have overwhelming negative mental health and physical health outcomes on transgender youth.”

Jennifer Plumb, a pediatric physician at the University of Utah and Primary Children’s Hospital, questioned why lawmakers were trying to tell doctors what to do rather than let them follow best practices.

“I’ve never stepped up out of a room and thought to call one of you all,” Plumb told the committee. “I’ve never thought to call a legislator and say, ‘Tell me how to best take care of this kid.’ Because I trust … national organizations and agencies, because I trust my colleagues.”

Republican Bountiful Rep. Ray Ward, who is a physician, asked the sponsor whether he believed the medical and scientific debate over transgender minor health issues was “over and done.”

“You know, I don’t know that it is all settled,” Shipp replied. “I just don’t think there’s enough data out there, honestly. At least from my perspective, and certainly I’m no physician.”

To that, Ward asked “why would we then step in with a statute to try and tell the medical establishment what was medically necessary?”

“What would be the reason that if the science is coming more clear, that we would step in and just tell them what the answer is, of (what is) medically necessary and unnecessary?” said Ward.

Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy, motioned to return the bill to the House Rules Committee rather than take a vote on it, noting that he was “concerned about the process that got us here.”

“I think the rules committee needs to flesh out the process problems that we’ve had with this bill, and the best way to do that is to send it back to the rules committee,” he said.

“I am certainly not in favor of that motion,” said Shipp. “This is about protecting our children.”

The motion to return the bill to the rules committee passed on a 10-3 vote.

The group Transgender Education Advocates of Utah celebrated the bill stalling in committee.

“Transgender children’s healthcare is protected,” the group wrote on Twitter. “Thank you to everyone who stood up to love and support our transgender youth!”

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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