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Montana lawmakers hear testimony on bill restricting gender-affirming care for youth

Fuller Senate Bill 99
Senate Bill 99 Hearing
Posted at 6:21 PM, Jan 27, 2023

HELENA — On Friday, a Montana legislative committee heard lengthy and often emotional testimony on a bill that would prohibit gender-affirming procedures for transgender youth.

Well over 100 people testified on Senate Bill 99, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that lasted more than five hours. Supporters said the bill was intended to keep minors from receiving treatments with long-lasting impacts before they reach adulthood, but opponents said it would interfere with needed support for transgender youth.

SB 99, sponsored by Sen. John Fuller, R-Kalispell, would ban hormone treatments or surgeries for someone under 18 seeking to medically transition to a gender identity different from the sex they were assigned at birth. It would threaten health care providers who do provide those treatments with a yearlong suspension of their authority to practice, along with potential legal liability for up to 25 years.

The bill would also prohibit state property and buildings from being used to “promote or advocate” social transitioning, like a person changing their preferred pronouns or dress.

Fuller said the state had an interest in making sure minors didn’t undergo procedures that could have extended effects.

“Children live under the guardianship of adults precisely because they lack the maturity, prudence and experience to make safe, responsible decisions for themselves,” he said.

Fuller brought two other bills on this subject during the 2021 legislative session, when he was serving in the House. House Bill 113, which would have blocked a similar range of therapies to this bill, failed in a final vote on the House floor. House Bill 427, which would have applied only to surgical procedures, was voted down on the Senate floor.

Those who spoke in favor of SB 99 Friday included some people who said they regretted going through gender transition. Others said these procedures alone would not resolve all the issues facing those who sought them.

“It is our job as adults to give children the message that no matter how intense or difficult their feelings are, that they can work through them without dissociating from themselves to become a different person,” said Erin Brewer.

Among those who testified against SB 99 were transgender youth and parents of those who have received these treatments. They said these medical procedures are neither taken lightly nor easy to get, but they do make a big difference in people’s lives.

Jessica Van Garderen said she moved forward with hormone therapy for her daughter, after extensive discussions with her and with health professionals convinced her that her daughter’s gender identity wasn’t a “phase” or symptom of something else.

“If you pass this bill, you will be taking away the medication that is allowing her to live, medication prescribed by her doctor to treat her medical condition,” Van Garderen said.

Rep. Zooey Zephyr, a transgender woman elected last year to represent Missoula, said she ran in part because of bills like this last session.

“Trans people, after transition, live lives full of joy,” she said. “My life is one full of joy. I come into this building every day. Excited to work with you, excited to work for the people of Montana. And that joy that I carry with me would not have been possible had I not transitioned.”

Health care providers said only some gender-affirming surgeries are performed on people younger than 18, and only in rare cases. They said SB 99 would put them in an untenable position and could discourage providers from serving patients in this state.

Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said he expected they would take action on this bill next week.