A Senate committee passed a bill Wednesday that would ban doctors from performing some gender affirming procedures on transgender patients under 18.

This story also appeared in Georgia Recorder

Sen. Carden Summers’ Senate Bill 140  would restrict surgical treatment for gender dysphoria as well as hormone therapy for minors, but it would allow puberty blockers, which delay the onset of puberty.

“This bill does provide puberty blocking agents, and it does give you a mental pause relating to that,” said Sen. Ben Watson, chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and a Savannah physician. “It forbids the surgery and forbids testosterone and estrogen. So to say that it does not treat (gender dysphoria), I think to say that would be a misrepresentation.”

Another bill, Sen. Clint Dixon’s SB 141, would outlaw puberty blockers in addition to surgical and hormone treatments. Dixon and Summers are both sponsors of the others’ bills, and Summers has also filed a bill aimed at preventing adult authority figures from talking about LGBTQ issues with minors under 16.

Tom Rawlings, a child welfare attorney who presented the bill with Summers, said allowing puberty blockers can give children and families a chance to stop and consider their options before seeking more permanent treatment.

“The majority of individuals who display gender dysphoria resolve it in some way — they may resolve it in becoming accustomed to their own body and their own gender, so to speak, they may become gay or bisexual, they may find a different attraction to different kinds of folks,” said Rawlings, who headed the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services and who was fired after an altercation in which he called an off-duty police officer “boy” and “son.” “But the bottom line is that we’re simply suggesting that, until the person is 18, we should limit irreversible medical procedures on such individuals.”

Formal studies on the rate at which gender dysphoria resolves itself have produced widely different results. Experts say gender identity is different from sexual orientation.

Healthcare providers say surgical intervention in transgender minors is extremely rare. The American Academy of Pediatrics describes puberty blockers as reversible, but notes that the effect of sustained puberty suppression on fertility is unknown.

Dr. Quentin Van Meter, an Atlanta-based pediatric endocrinologist who spoke in favor of Dixon’s bill, said he has serious concerns about interfering with puberty because it is important in shaping many of the body’s systems into adulthood.

In 2020, a Texas judge disqualified Van Meter as an expert on transgender health care, according to the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.

“I’m passionate about it because I deeply care for children,” Van Meter said. “I know hormones are necessary and puberty is not a disease. It’s a process that helps us go from a non-reproductive individual to a healthy, reproductive individual. Our brains are dependent on it, our bones are dependent on it, our gonads are dependent on it.”

A 2020 position statement from the Endocrine Society endorsed by the Pediatric Endocrinology Society finds that “medical intervention for transgender youth and adults (including puberty suppression, hormone therapy and medically indicated surgery) is effective, relatively safe (when appropriately monitored), and has been established as the standard of care.”

More than a dozen people signed up to speak at Wednesday’s hearing, mostly parents in opposition, but many were denied the chance to speak because lawmakers scheduled another meeting in the same room an hour later. A hearing on Summers’ other bill was similarly rushed.

Parents gathered in the Capitol after the meeting said puberty blockers can be effective for children who come out as transgender before they hit puberty, but do not help those who realize they are transgender afterwards. The physical changes that come with puberty can be distressing for many who have gender dysphoria.

Stephanie Hinnant, a Decatur mom, said hormone treatment may have saved her child’s life.

“For my child, that would have been essentially six years that they would be stuck in the wrong body, developing through childhood, and I don’t know if they would have made it six years,” she said. “That’s the biggest thing. This is health care that helps them to survive and exist and be on this planet. And without it, the option for most of these kids is not being on this planet anymore.”

Hinnant said her child is now happy, healthy and working on an engineering degree.

A national push

Elements of the GOP have focused on pushing back against more novel expressions of gender in recent years and have been bringing the fight to state legislatures. The American Civil Liberties Union is tracking 321 anti-LGBTQ bills across the country, including 95 related to health care.

One of the most outspoken politicians on the issue has been Georgia Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, who visited the Georgia Senate Wednesday to urge them to fight against what she called a “multi-billion dollar medical industry that’s growing all over the country.”

“There are children that are not even old enough to vote, not old enough to graduate high school, not old enough and don’t have driver’s license, aren’t old enough to join the military, aren’t old enough to get a tattoo, aren’t old enough to buy nicotine or alcohol that are taking dangerous medication, puberty blockers, they are undergoing dangerous surgeries, permanent, life altering surgeries,” she said.

As of June, about 300,000 Americans between 13 and 17 identified as transgender, or 1.4% of that age group, according to data from UCLA.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity.

Before joining the Georgia Recorder, Ross Williams covered local and state government for the Marietta Daily Journal.Williams' reporting took him from City Hall to homeless camps, from the offices of business...