CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Crowds at the West Virginia state capitol on Thursday begged lawmakers to show as much compassion for saving the lives of transgender children as they showed for unborn fetuses when they voted to ban abortion just months ago .
Over and over again during a hearing, dozens of doctors, parents and LGBTQ Republican supermajority people said a decision to ban gender-affirming childcare for youth would endanger the lives of children. Transgender and gender non-conforming children attempt suicide disproportionately, and West Virginia has the largest per capita population of transgender youth in the country.
“You all like to use rhetoric about not killing children as justification for passing legislation, as you did this summer. You will kill children if you pass this,” said Rev. Jenny Williams, United Methodist pastor in Preston County. “If you oppose the killing of children, as you say, I would hope that you would apply your principles consistently.”
“The hypocrisy here is significant and is not based on science but on fear,” said Alise Chaffins, a teacher who said she is also the parent of more than one transgender child.
Several people told lawmakers they would have blood on their hands if they moved forward the bill banning gender-affirming treatment for minors, which has pulled out of two House committees and is now up for consideration before the full House of Delegates.
Some of the few MPs present watched intently, others looked at their phones or laptops or averted their eyes. People were given a minute to speak before being interrupted and asked to sit down. Almost 80 people spoke out against the law. Two spoke in support.
Paula Lepp, who said she is a Christian parent of a Christian transgender child, told lawmakers she believes the law is contrary to Jesus’ teachings to care for the most marginalized.
“The bottom line is: I’d rather have a living daughter than a dead son, and this bill jeopardizes that,” she said.
Robyn Kincaid, a transgender woman, called the bill “nasty,” saying decades ago when she was a transgender teenager, she didn’t have access to gender-affirming care and had to deal with the “hell” of living with gender dysphoria for years .
“It’s time we stopped worrying about trans kids making the transition,” she said. “It’s time we stopped worrying about what happens if they don’t.”
Republicans in other states who have wanted to limit underage access to the treatments have often called the treatments medically unproven and potentially dangerous in the long term, another political battle against liberal ideologies. They also say that teenagers should not undergo irreversible surgeries.
Braden Roten, one of the two people who supported the law, urged lawmakers to look beyond the crowds that turned out to speak against it and consider what Conservatives would want.
“Despite the crowd opposing this law, this is a red state and there is a huge push in the conservative movement for this law,” he said as people booed from the chamber galleries and ground level. “If you don’t vote on this bill, we will vote you out.”
At least 88 bills aimed at restricting gender-affirming childcare for minors or young adults have been introduced in 26 states. West Virginia’s measure bans gender-affirming surgery and hormone therapy for teenagers.
Many physicians, mental health specialists, and medical groups have argued that treatments for young transgender people are safe and beneficial, although rigorous long-term research is lacking. Federal health authorities have described gender-affirming care as critical to the health and well-being of transgender children and youth.
Charleston pediatrician Dr. Allison Holstein, speaking Thursday on behalf of the West Virginia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She said the bill will affect doctors’ ability to provide the best medical care to their patients.
“The law is dangerous, it’s an intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship,” she said. “Trying to fit politics into medical practice is disturbing and very worrying.”
Lia Farrell, a student at West Virginia University School of Medicine, called the law “abominable” and said it undermines “everything we work for as healthcare providers.”
Brianna Caison, another WVU medicine student, said when lawmakers pass legislation that makes gender-affirming care illegal, it sends a message that they don’t value the medical community.
“From a medical-ethical perspective, asking not to offer life-saving therapy is tantamount to making insulin illegal for diabetics,” Caison said.
Staffers at the West Virginia Women’s Health Center — formerly West Virginia’s only provider of abortions before the procedure was effectively banned — also opposed the bill. The clinic, which primarily provides Medicaid to low-income people, began offering gender-affirming hormone therapy when abortion was outlawed.
Executive Director Katie Quiñonez read a statement on behalf of a transgender man who said before coming out as trans, he had attempted suicide four times. The first time he was 12.
“If you’re so pro-life, why are you trying to kill trans kids?” Quinonez said.
Kaylen Barker, communications director for the Women’s Health Center, who is a member of the LGBTQ community, said she’s tired of having to come to the Capitol to justify her existence and the experiences of people she loves.
“Leave us alone,” Barker shouted. “Find something worthwhile to do with your time, like fix the damn roads.”