Georgia lawmaker targets doctors who help transgender children

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A Georgia lawmaker who compared transgender people to moose introduced legislation that would imprison doctors who provide gender-affirming care to trans youth. 

The bill from state Rep. Ginny Ehrhart, a Republican from Marietta, is the third anti-trans proposal filed by lawmakers in February. The two others are aimed at trans athletes in schools and colleges. 

Ehrhart introduced House Bill 401 – titled the Vulnerable Child Protection Act – on Feb. 10. The measure would prohibit licensed medical professionals from giving hormone treatments to or performing gender affirmation surgery on people under the age of 18 “for the purpose of attempting to affirm the minor’s perception of such minor’s sex, if that perception is inconsistent with such minor’s sex,” according to the bill.

Healthcare professionals who violate the law would be charged with a felony and face a prison term of up to 10 years. They would lose their medical license if convicted.

The legislation also creates a private cause of action, which would allow “any individual aggrieved” by the gender-affirming care to sue for damages and attorneys’ fees.

HB 401 is similar to legislation Ehrhart filed in 2020 that was blasted by critics as a “trans panic bill.” The bill stalled in a legislative session interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Chanel Haley, Gender Policy Manager at Georgia Equality (Photo courtesy Haley)

‘Wrong-headed bills’

LGBTQ advocates again assailed Ehrhart’s latest proposal.

“Wrong-headed bills that attack vulnerable marginalized communities, like trans kids, have no place in a caring and compassionate society where every person is valued and respected,” said Chanel Haley, Gender Policy Manager at Georgia Equality. 

“Decisions about medical treatment for transgender youth should be made by a medical doctor, in accordance with the current medical best practices and the youth’s parents,” Haley added.

Ehrhart’s legislation includes five co-sponsors, all of whom chair House committees and several who are members of Republican leadership – Reps. Mark Newton, Rick Jasperse, Micah Gravley, John Carson and Karen Mathiak. 

Carson, Jasperse, Mathiak and Newton co-sponsored Ehrhart’s anti-trans bill in 2020. Jasperse also pushed back on adding LGBTQ protections to a student scholarship bill in 2017.

Ehrhart’s legislation is the latest anti-trans measure filed by Republican lawmakers in recent weeks. On Feb. 9 – a day before Ehrhart introduced her legislation – Jasperse introduced House Bill 372. The measure would ban trans athletes from competing in local school systems. Ehrhart is a co-sponsor. 

On Feb. 4, state Rep. Philip Singleton, a Republican from Sharpsburg, introduced House Bill 276. The measure would prevent transgender women from competing in female sports at public and private schools and colleges. It would also allow cis-gender female athletes to sue schools if they can prove they were denied an opportunity to participate in sports by the inclusion of a trans woman.

Jeff Graham, Georgia Equality’s executive director, called the trio of bills “an attack on transgender kids.”

“It stigmatizes transgender kids and it stigmatizes the medical care and the parents that are doing their best to protect their kids and make their kids’ lives better. These sorts of political attacks on children are just absolutely shameful,” Graham said.

Ehrhart’s bill has been assigned to the Health & Human Services Committee, which is chaired by state Rep. Sharon Cooper. The Republican from Marietta has supported legislation decriminalizing HIV and launching a PrEP pilot program.

Ehrhart is developing a lengthy anti-LGBTQ track record. She compared transgender people to moose during her 2018 campaign, vowed to revive a push for anti-LGBTQ “religious freedom” legislation in the 2019 session, spoke out against a bill that would ban conversion therapy for minors during a hearing at the state Capitol in 2019 and targeted doctors with a “trans panic” bill in 2020.

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