Ban on treatments for transgender kids fails in South Dakota

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — Legislation aimed at stopping South Dakota physicians from providing puberty blockers and gender confirmation surgery to transgender children under 16 failed to get enough support Monday in a Senate committee.

A Republican-dominated Senate committee voted 5-2 to kill the proposal, likely ensuring the issue won't be considered by the Legislature again this year.

Proponents already had amended the bill to get rid of criminal charges for doctors who provide gender confirmation treatments, including puberty blockers, hormone therapy and surgery. But it would have allowed children to sue if they later regretted the treatments.

Conservative lawmakers in nearly a dozen other states, including South Carolina, Florida, Missouri, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky and New Hampshire, are pushing similar proposals. The measure had gained the most traction in South Dakota, where the House recently passed it.

But some Republican senators and GOP Gov. Kristi Noem had expressed concerns and questioned whether the Legislature should be delving into the issue.

LGBT advocates and Democrats argued that the proposal would have stopped children with gender dysphoria from receiving medically necessary health care that improves their mental health. They demonstrated outside the Capitol before Monday's Senate Health and Human Services Committee meeting.

Quinncy Parke, a 17-year-old transgender teenager, testified before the committee and had one word to describe the feeling of seeing the bill die: “ecstatic.”

“It's gone," Parke said. "I don't have to worry about it until next year.”

Proponents of the bill maintained that the treatments are harmful.

Rep. Fred Deutsch, a Florence Republican who introduced the bill, said the testimony and debate had raised awareness about the potential side effects and highlighted the doubts of some doctors about the long-term mental health benefits of such treatments.

Parke said that Deutsch crafted the bill to “fuel confusion” about gender confirmation treatments.

Leading medical authorities, including the Endocrine Society and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, do not recommend gender confirmation surgeries for children. For youths experiencing puberty and older adolescents, the Endocrine Society recommends that a team composed of expert medical and mental health professionals manages treatment, which can include puberty-blocking drugs or hormone therapy.

Keith Hansen, an endocrinologist with Sanford Health in South Dakota, said the health care network treated fewer than 20 minors with gender dysphoria in the state last year. He said children who receive gender confirmation treatments receive psychiatric counseling before and during the treatments.

The South Dakota State Medical Association opposed the bill, arguing it discriminated against transgender people and interfered with physicians’ ability to administer necessary medical treatment.

Conservative lawmakers said they were reluctant to interfere in parental rights.

“With all due respect, my child’s health care is not your decision to make,” Kim Parke, the mother of Quinncy, told the committee.

Deutsch said he would not be bringing the issue again this year, but he shared the bill and notes with lawmakers in other states, where similar legislation is being considered.

He said the governor had worked “behind the scenes” to oppose the bill.

“That's simply not accurate,” said Kristin Wileman, Noem's spokeswoman, insisting that the governor never took a formal position on the bill.

In 2016, Deutsch brought a “bathroom bill” that would have forced transgender students to use restrooms labeled for their birth gender. It cleared the House and Senate before former Gov. Dennis Daugaard vetoed it.

Legislation aimed at restricting LGBT people has often found friendly ground in South Dakota. Republicans hold every statewide office and a super-majority in the Legislature.

Supporters from both sides crowded into the room where the committee met until they overflowed into the hallways. Lawmakers said they have heard more from constituents on this issue than any other this legislative session. Several legislators said most of the communication was in favor of the ban.

Dozens of advocates protested outside the Capitol on Monday, riding horses on the grounds, waving rainbow flags, and holding signs to support transgender people. They said that legislation aimed at LGBT people is a recurring issue in the state.

LGBT advocates said the bill has already caused damage. Lauren Stanley, an Episcopalian minister who works with youth from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, said she has already heard from LGBT youth who felt targeted by the legislation, expressing anxiety and desires to hurt themselves.

But Quinncy Parke is ready if a similar bill is brought again. “I've already stuck my neck out — why not do it again?” Parke said.