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Indiana lawmakers advance ban on all gender-affirming care

Protesters stand outside of the Senate chamber at the Statehouse, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023, in Indianapolis. The Senate's health committee passed a bill that would ban gender-affirming medical care for minors.

INDIANAPOLIS — Krisztina and Ken Inskeep’s son came out as transgender when he was a teenager, a transition they told an Indiana Senate public health committee on Wednesday that offered a remedy to years of his mental health struggles.
Still, an Indiana Senate bill that the couple called “cruel and arrogant” — banning gender-affirming transition treatments for those 18 and under, the very care they said kept their son alive — passed the committee 8-3.

“If it weren’t for the support of doctors and health care professionals, we’re convinced that our child may not have survived,” Krisztina said.

The bill, which now moves to the full state Senate, would ban all gender-affirming care for Indiana minors. That care could range from taking puberty blockers and hormone therapy to social transition at schools.

This legislative session, conservatives nationwide are hyperfocused on LGBTQ issues in statehouses — introducing bills that target trans athletes and drag performers, and limit gender-affirming care.

Utah’s Republican governor recently signed into law a ban on gender-affirming care, and judges have temporarily blocked similar laws in Arkansas and Alabama that force medical providers to stop offering gender-affirming care to minors.

Most recently, on Tuesday the Republican-dominated Mississippi Legislature sent a bill that bans gender-affirming care for anyone younger than 18 to the state’s Republican Gov. Tate Reeves, who is running for reelection and has indicated that he will sign it.

In Indiana, Wednesday’s Senate bill is the second approved this week that opponents say targets trans people.

Residents shared testimony, their voices often shaking in anger or getting choked up with tears, as protesters cheered with joy outside the Senate chambers. A similarly enthusiastic crowd chanted outside House chambers Monday after lawmakers advanced a bill in committee that would require public school teachers to divulge students’ social transitions or pronoun changes to parents.

“Since these procedures have irreversible and life-altering effects, it is appropriate and necessary for our state to make sure these procedures are performed only on adults who can make the decision on their own behalf,” said Republican Sen. Tyler Johnson, an emergency physician and author of the bill.

Medical providers have challenged this idea that puberty-blockers and hormone therapies are irreversible.

But representatives from Indiana University Health Riley Children’s Hospital, the state’s sole gender health program, said that for patients who are minors, doctors do not perform genital surgeries or provide those surgery referrals.

“We fundamentally believe this legislation interferes with a parent’s right to choose the best possible care and potentially-life saving care for their child as it pertains to these services,” Tory Castor, senior vice president of government affairs at IU Health, said Wednesday.

Dr. Lauren Bell, an adolescent medicine fellow at Indiana University and spokesperson for the Indiana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, added that medication like puberty blockers are reversible, though such cases are rare.

Young trans residents flooded the statehouse hallways and the Senate chamber Wednesday, describing before legislators their positive experiences with gender-affirming care.

“I’m not afraid to speak anymore,” said Damian Ryan, a 17-year-old from Fishers, Indiana. “I’m not afraid to look in the mirror anymore. I’m not afraid to be who I really am anymore.”

Killian Provence would love to one day receive gender-affirming care, he said, even if that is not possible for him now.

“Although I’m 16, I know who I am,” Provence said. “And I have for a long time.”

Some people who detransitioned also testified Wednesday — though they underwent surgeries as adults or were not Indiana residents. Sill, most of the testimony came from those who are opposed to the bill.

Matt Sharp, senior counsel of the conservative Christian group Alliance Defending Freedom — a national legal organization that advocates for limiting LGBTQ rights and growing Christian influence in schools — supported the bill before Senators.

“Indiana is well within its authority and duty to protect minors from these harmful procedures,” Sharp said.

Parental rights, a topic that had outlined Monday’s House committee debate, also defined Wednesday’s testimony.

Ken Inskeep said he found it “so insulting” that lawmakers would “suggest parents are just too damn stupid” to understand their child’s dire mental health or medical needs, pushing forward a ban for situations he said they cannot understand.

“Imagine if your kid is on the edge,” said Ken Inskeep. “Every single day you’re locking up medications and you’re hiding the scissors and the knives, and why? That’s because you got to worry that they’re not going to be alive when you come home.”

Nadine McSpadden, whose teenager is trans, said that parents of trans kids — and the children themselves — “are no different” than others.

“We’re all just muddling through, trying to do the right thing for our kids,” she said. “And trans teens aren’t the Boogeyman. They’re just kids, muddling through worrying about grades and friends and weekend plans.”
Arleigh Rodgers is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. 

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