New law in California protects transgender youth who come for medical care: NPR

California is now a haven for transgender youth coming for medical care. The new law protects families traveling from places where there are efforts to criminalize gender-affirming care.


A new California law protects families who travel to the state to seek medical care for transgender youth. It’s a response to growing efforts in red states against trans rights. Lesley McClurg of member station KQED has more.

LESLEY MCCLURG: After decades of building a life in Texas, a mother suddenly feared she might be under investigation for child abuse.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: We were overwhelmed that it was no longer safe for us to be there.

MCCLURG: She asked that we not use her name because earlier this year Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered Family Protective Services to investigate parents with transgender children. The mother began to hear stories of children being pulled out of classrooms and interrogated.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: With their parents not there. And these are children who have only passed socially. All they asked was to be called by a different pronoun. This is scary.

MCCLURG: Her own 12-year-old daughter underwent a social transformation three years ago when she asked her family and friends to use female pronouns.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: And so we sat down and talked to our child. We gave her a little card to go to school that stated her rights and told her what to do if someone came to investigate us.

MCCLURG: But the family couldn’t relax. They sold their house and packed up all their belongings and moved to Southern California this fall.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: It’s a very good feeling to not feel like you’re in danger, you know, in that really critical place like tearing our family apart.

MCCLURG: Under the new law authored by state Sen. Scott Wiener, they feel safe. Provides families with access to hormones or puberty blockers in California. And it protects families from being investigated in other states.

SCOTT WIENER: We’re going to shelter them and not send them back and honor the subpoena. And our law enforcement agencies will not enforce Texas and Alabama laws criminalizing these families.

MCCLURG: Leaders in 21 states push for laws that would limit medical care for transgender youth. Many of these efforts are tied up in court. But families are panicking because children who are already taking hormones or puberty blockers may lose access to their medication.

GREG BURT: We want to keep this treatment out of minors because it’s permanent.

MCCLURG: Greg Burt is a member of the conservative Christian California Family Council. She worries that the children will regret the transition.

BURT: We don’t assume the problem is in your body. We think it makes more sense to encourage young people to try to make their minds match their bodies.

MCCLURG: Yet the standard of care for children who are truly distressed and diagnosed with gender dysphoria includes medical interventions. But Burt is not only against the content of the new California law. They also claim it is unconstitutional.

JESSICA LEVINSON: There could be litigation over both abortion and gender-affirming care.

MCCLURG: Jessica Levinson is a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

LEVINSON: But I think the weight of the law suggests that states are separate sovereigns. Unless and until there is a national standard that states no one can get gender-affirming care or no one can get an abortion, the law allows for this confusion.

MCCLURG: This mosaic is central to Kathia Moehlig’s work. She is the executive director of Trans Family Support Services in San Diego.

KATHIE MOEHLIG: Politicians shouldn’t be making medical decisions for anyone, nor should they be making parenting decisions for anyone.

MCCLURG: A survey from the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention organization, found that 45% of transgender youth had considered suicide in the past year. About a decade ago, Moehlig helped her 11-year-old get puberty blockers.

MOEHLIG: My son would not still be alive if we had waited until 18. He was already in such distress and so completely miserable. His body was becoming something he knew it wasn’t.

MCCLURG: Today, she says her son is doing well in college, studying theology. Yet there is little or no data on whether youth who transition later regret the decision. For the Moehlig family, their only regret is waiting as long as they did. I’m Lesley McClurg for NPR News.


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