Florida votes to ban gender-affirming care, treatments for transgender minors

The state of Florida has approved a proposal to ban gender-affirming medical care or treatments for transgender minors — a decision that is already expected to be challenged in court.

The Florida Board of Medicine and the Florida Board of Osteopathic Medicine are the two groups at the center of the decision, tasked with deciding whether doctors should have restrictions in place when it comes to the services they can provide to transgender minors.

They met in Orlando Friday afternoon, voting to approve a proposal that will prohibit doctors from prescribing puberty-blocking hormone treatments for patients under the age of 18, while also banning surgical treatments for transgender minors.

"We need to return to the community standard of care for treating distress and that is psychotherapy - ethical, compassionate psychotherapy that respects the child's experience," said Dr. Patrick Hunter, a pediatrician on the Florida Board of Medicine.

It’s an issue that has passionate supporters but also vocal critics. That means that no matter which way the decision went, it’s likely a legal battle will follow.

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Those in support of the proposal have said they want to make sure that kids diagnosed with gender dysphoria aren’t treated with surgery or medication as they believe those treatments could have long-term or lifelong effects.

Governor Ron DeSantis has been a strong backer of the proposal along with the idea that those under the age of 18 shouldn’t have access to these treatments.

"You don't disfigure 10, 12, and 13-year-old kids based on gender dysphoria. 80% of it resolves anyway by the time they get older," he previously claimed, without evidence.

But others feel differently. Many medical experts have said that these treatments could be crucial for some kids.

"Transition can, and often does, alleviate co-occurring mental health issues that a transgender young person experiences prior to transition. Following transition, transgender young people are often able to see significant improvements in functioning and quality of life," said Dr. Aron Janssen.

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Equality Florida slammed the state's decision to approve the proposal, saying that, once implemented, it will be the only ban on gender-affirming care in effect in America since similar measures in Alabama and Arkansas are currently blocked in court.

"These rules, as written, put transgender youth at higher risk of depression, anxiety, and suicidality," said Nikole Parker, the group's director of transgender equality. "Gender-affirming care is lifesaving care — and it is care that is supported by every major medical organization, an overwhelming majority of medical providers, and should be left to young people, their families, and their doctors. Not politicians. Shame on the Florida Boards of Medicine and Osteopathy for trading the suffering of transgender youth and their parents for cheap political points."

The decision goes against guidance from the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Children and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, all of which deem gender-affirming care to be effective and potentially life-saving treatment.

The American Medical Association noted it "opposes the dangerous intrusion of government into the practice of medicine and the criminalization of health care decision-making," calling gender-affirming care "medically necessary, evidence-based care that improves the physical and mental health of transgender and gender-diverse people." 

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This all comes on the heels of another controversial decision by the DeSantis administration. Earlier this year, the administration passed a law that would prevent Medicaid reimbursements for gender-affirming care for transgender people of all ages. That decision is currently being challenged.

Prior to Friday's decision, LGBTQ advocates promised to challenge the proposal if it was approved. During public comment, people on both sides made passionate pleas. 

"We are not standing here today on the Friday before November 8th by chance. This is 2022, not the 1970s," said Rep. Ana Eskamani. "I expect the legislature to be a political being, not the Board of Medicine."

"The truth is that no matter how much a confused minor a confused youth with gender dysphoria identifies with the opposite sex, a person can not change into the opposite sex," said Dr. Diane Gowski, the president of the Florida Catholic Medical Association.

"You all know about the abortion ban so, a 15-year-old can't decide that they want to be trans but they can be forced to have a child? They're that responsible?" asked Sarah Parker, the president of Women's Voices of SW Florida.

Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph A. Ladapo shared a statement on the decision:  

"Today’s vote from the Boards of Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine will protect our children from irreversible surgeries and highly experimental treatments. I appreciate the integrity of the Boards for ruling in the best interest of children in Florida despite facing tremendous pressure to permit these unproven and risky treatments. Children deserve to learn how to navigate this world without harmful pressure, and Florida will continue to fight for kids to be kids."