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SB 16 would ban minors from having surgeries, including cosmetic procedures, to address gender dysphoria. Advocates of the proposals say the legislation serves as a protection mechanism for children against the permanence of such medical procedures. The legislature failed to pass a similar bill last year that would have blocked both gender-altering surgery and the use of hormone therapy or puberty blockers on minors.
During a Health and Human Services Interim Committee hearing in October, committee chair and sponsor of SB 16, Sen. Michael Kennedy (R – Alpine), advocated for delaying gender-affirming genital surgery until after the age of 18.
“The evidence for whether or not [gender-affirming surgery] actually does what we hope it does for these individuals is weak,” Kennedy said during the hearing. “It’s available, but it’s weak. All I’m asking for is that we be thoughtful about what is a novel treatment before we open this up to whatever anybody wants to do.”
Opponents of the measures are calling them politically motivated and discriminatory, pointing to how the legislation does not address cosmetic surgical procedures on minors where gender transition is not involved.
“We don’t seem to have parity in our approaches to the medications and the procedures that are being used,” said Candice Metzler, PhD, Therapist, Educator, and LGBTQ Advocate with Metzler Counseling and Education Services. “Meaning in one case, it’s okay. But in this particular case, it’s not okay, or it’s less legitimate. That comes from people [with] a very biased perspective, that there’s something about contamination.
They’ve used the term rapid onset gender dysphoria to try and describe how this is a problem, to suggest that people just automatically hear about it and suddenly they have it. My position has been that [gender dysphoria] speaks to the need to strengthen screening protocols, and standards of care that actually can help us make sure that we’re providing the appropriate care to the people who need it and not providing care to people who may not benefit from that care.”
Metzler said in the 14 years of working with children and their families as a therapist in Utah, she has seen the benefits of just having their needs acknowledged.
“I’ve had young people come in who are completely dysregulated, who do not have any social interaction,” Metzler said. “They do not do anything except for the bare minimum, maybe going to school, many of them end up homeschooling in a very isolated environment. The fact of the matter is, just [listening] alone can be very beneficial in terms of improvement in function and overall well-being.
In terms of seeing people get on puberty blockers [and] be able to have something to help combat the dysphoria, the distress that they experience around their body, I’ve seen [the benefits] for 14 years. I’m not someone who is for or against people getting on puberty blockers, hormone replacement therapy, or at accessing some form of surgery. I’m there to advocate for my clients to get their needs met to help them identify what they need, help them identify the source of the problem.
I’ve seen what happens when people are pulled out of that process and people don’t believe them. And unfortunately, all too often that leads to self-harming and sometimes suicide.”
Metzler, former Executive Director and Board Chair for Transgender Education Advocates of Utah and current advisory council member for Equality Utah, has worked closely with lawmakers on issues affecting the LGBTQ community.
She said it is unfortunate that legislatures in Utah and other parts of the country have adopted a “toxic approach to governing”. Legislation to ban transgender participation in school sports that passed last year has been challenged in the courts and faces on-going litigation. She anticipates that should these measures pass in the upcoming session, rights groups will challenge them in court as well.
“In terms of the way Utah presents itself as a [Latter Day Saints] loving, compassionate society, this legislation flies in the face of that,” said Metzler. “I understand the concern and the fear. And I think the solution to that is taking the time to learn more and connect with people and have conversations. I would encourage those conversations but the knee jerk reaction of just taking away people’s healthcare and all and substituting them for politically determined medical care does not fit within what we say our values are in the state.”