Ohio vote highlights intensified transgender rights battles across US

By Daniel Trotta

(Reuters) – Ohio lawmakers are expected to vote on Wednesday whether to override the governor’s veto of a bill that would ban gender-affirming care for minors, one of the dozens of bills introduced this year to restrict transgender rights.

In this presidential election year, the number of bills has already surpassed last year’s record-setting pace, extending a contentious cultural debate in the United States. Democrats say transgender people and parents of transgender kids should determine treatment, as endorsed by the medical consensus, while Republicans portray that stance as medically radical and dangerous to children.

Some of the new proposals are among the most prohibitive to date. One Florida bill would require all driver’s license applicants to sign affidavits attesting to their sex at birth and another would classify some allegations of transphobia as defamation, carrying statutory damages of up to $35,000.

In Ohio, medical professionals and parents had told Republican Governor Mike DeWine that gender transition was necessary and life-saving for many adolescents and teens.

“I believe that parents, not the government, should be making these very crucial medical decisions for their children,” DeWine said when he vetoed the transgender bill in late December, defying party convention.

The bill had passed both chambers of his state’s legislature with more than the three-fifths majority needed to overturn a veto. It was unclear whether the margins would hold Wednesday when the Ohio House was scheduled to consider overriding DeWine’s veto, or on Jan. 24 when a state Senate vote was set.

Transgender rights advocates initially praised DeWine. But last week he issued an executive order curtailing transgender healthcare that appeared to be an attempt to stave off a veto override, and has been criticized by transgender advocates as imposing more extreme restrictions than the bill contained.

The governor said at a press conference on Friday that he was concerned over advertising from “fly-by-night” clinics that might be profiting off transgender people without proper training or oversight.

Now transgender Ohioans are facing the possibility of a restored legislative ban on gender-affirming care plus the additional restrictions in DeWine’s executive order, which requires that even adult transgender people must have a comprehensive care plan prescribed by both a psychiatrist and an endocrinologist that is then reviewed by a medical ethicist before receiving services. The executive order would not go into effect before a public comment period ends Feb. 5.

Across the country, nearly 150 bills have been introduced in 2023-24 legislation sessions across the United States, more than double the number introduced at this date a year ago, according to a team of transgender rights activists who track the legislation, led by journalist Erin Reed.

Some of the measures would extend medical limits to adults, a shift from the previous focus on adolescents and teens under 18. A South Carolina bill would prohibit Medicaid coverage for transgender patients up to 26 years of age.

Last year some 560 anti-LBGTQ rights bills were introduced and 81 of them passed, including 22 that imposed some limits if not outright bans on gender-affirming care for minors such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy.

Federal courts have ruled both in favor and against the healthcare bans.

Republicans and backers of such bans say the major medical associations in the fields of pediatrics, endocrinology and mental health are mistaken and that providing transition care to minors is akin to child abuse.

The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) recommends transgender people receive comprehensive assessments from a multidisciplinary team of medical professions experienced in transgender care before starting hormone therapy or graduating to surgery.

But WPATH President Marci Bowers said DeWine’s order arbitrarily erects barriers and delays to care for a vulnerable population, and that the required involvement of a medical ethicist was unprecedented.

“This is this is just an anti-diversity campaign,” Bowers said. “They really don’t understand biology. It will come as a shock to the governor and other conservative voices that babies can be born with a vagina and have a Y chromosome. A baby can be born with a penis and have two X chromosomes. Why is it so hard for them to understand that gender identity is also diverse?”

The conservative think tank American Principles Project has been one of the groups supporting the state-level legislation in recent years. President Terry Schilling counters that sex is binary and immutable.

“We need to get people to accept their bodies and to love their bodies,” Schilling said. “There’s a serious self-hatred going on. And there’s nothing wrong with these people’s bodies. It’s their mind that needs work.”

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; editing by Donna Bryson and Edwina Gibbs)