Governor Cox signs controversial SB16, banning transgender surgeries on children in Utah – St George News

File photo of the Utah State Capitol, Salt Lake City, Utah, June 20, 2020 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St George News

ST. GEORGE – on saturday, Governor Spencer Cox signed Senate Bill 16. The newly enacted legislation, which takes effect immediately, bans transgender surgeries for children under age 18, in addition to restricting puberty blockers and hormonal treatments for minors.

SB16 was sponsored in the Utah Senate by Sen. Michael Kennedy (R-Alpine) and in the House by Rep. Katy Hall (R-Ogden). Both are also medical professionals, with Kennedy being a physician and Hall a nurse.

“Legislation that impacts our most vulnerable youth requires careful consideration and deliberation,” Cox said on Saturday in a written statement shared on his official Twitter account.

Today we signed SB 16, Transgender Medical Treatment and Procedures.

— Utah Gov. Spencer J Cox (@GovCox) January 28, 2023

“While not a perfect bill, we are grateful for Sen. Kennedy’s more nuanced and thoughtful approach to this terribly divisive issue,” the governor’s statement added. “More and more experts, states and countries around the world are pausing these permanent and life-aging treatments for new patients until more and better research can help determine the long-term consequences.”

Just two days earlier, House members had voted 58-14 to pass SB16 after making several changes. It then went back to the Senate, which approved the amended version by a vote of 20-8 on Friday.

transgender symbol in a flag background,
iStock/Getty Images Plus, St George News

“As we’ve worked on this legislation with all the stakeholders over the last several months, I believe we have struck a good balance of being firm, being responsible and being compassionate,” Hall said during Thursday’s hearing in the House.

“For me, as a mother and a grandmother and as a nurse, I have a vested interest, as all of us do, in the health and well-being of Utah’s children,” Hall said.

Hall said she has become increasingly aware over the past decade of gender dysphoria treatments, more radically and to younger patients.

“I believe in and support parental rights and I know there needs to be a balance struck,” she said. “The facts are these, though, that these novel and irreversible procedures and the medications being administered to children, lack sufficient long-term research.”

Rep. Nelson Abbott (R-Orem) said during the hearing that SB16 is designed to protect children who might later regret having transitioned from one sex to the other.

“When children transition, many of them will grow and regret having transitioned,” Abbott said. “Many will suffer heartache and turmoil for the rest of their lives for what they perceive as a mistake that they made when they were young.”

Graphic shows state laws on transgender youth participation in sports, June 21, 2022 | Map courtesy of The Associated Press, St George News

However, newly elected Rep. Sahara Hayes (D-Millcreek) took issue with the bill, calling it “exclusionary.”

“I don’t think it is ever fair to position one group of children above another in terms of their well being,” Hayes said. “This bill centers a very small percentage of cisgender children who might come to regret their decision. However, it does not acknowledge the lived experience that is happening with transgender children now.”

“I think we focus on the transgender part and not the fact that they’re kids,” Hayes added. “These are our nieces and nephews, these are the kids next door. This is your best friend’s teenager.”

Waiting until after puberty, Hayes said, makes gender transitioning much harder.

“It’s really hard to lose the height you gain or vice versa,” she said. “It’s hard to grow hips or make them disappear when you want that.”

When asking legislators for a better resolution, Hayes cited the example of someone close to her, a trans woman who had known since childhood that she was female but didn’t come out until she was in her 30s.

“It’s hard to spend thousands of dollars trying to get rid of facial hair,” she said. “It’s hard to know that you’re never going to have the body you want, and that you have to live in something that does not feel like you. And it’s hard not getting back those childhood experiences.”

However, Hall defended SB16, saying:

I echo Sen. Kennedy’s concerns that we can’t allow social policy to outpace science: the permanence of the consequences is too great. Again, we must ask these questions: Can a child appropriately give informed consent? And do they completely understand the implications of their choice at that young age? Will the child be pleased with their choice for the remainder of their life? And also, what can we as a legislature do to better support the mental health of our youngest Utahns? These are essential questions and they are questions we’ve asked ourselves as we created this policy over several months of negotiations. We all make decisions even now that we regret permanent choices made as a child are fraught with potential for regret, and adverse adverse effects later in life.

The swift and sudden passage of SB16 generated a fair amount of backlash among civil rights advocates and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

“With the new substitute, SB16 is no longer a moratorium but rather a full ban on transgender medical care,” Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, said in a written statement on Thursday.

On Saturday, Williams tweeted: “I am grateful for the love and compassion that parents have for their transgender children. This is not the end of this story, I promise. Trans lives are a gift to the planet. You make our world more beautiful.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, which had earlier urged the governor to veto the measure, tweeted the following after Cox signed the bill:

“Trans kids are kids — they deserve to grow up without constant political attacks on their lives and health care; we will defend that right. We see you. We support you.”

#Update, @GovCox signed SB 16.

Trans kids are kids — they deserve to grow up without constant political attacks on their lives and health care; we will defend that right. We see you. We support you. #transkidsmatter

— ACLU of Utah (@acluutah) January 28, 2023

The newly passed SB16 is just one of several measures being considered during the 2023 Utah Legislature has targets transgender and related issues. Others include the following:

  • HB132, “Prohibiting Sex Transitioning Procedures on Minors,” which is similar to SB16 but has stricter wording, was introduced by sponsor Rep. Rex Shipp (R-Cedar City) but has failed to make it out of committee. “The idea is, let’s just give them time,” Shipp told St. George News shortly before he introduced the bill. “Let them wait. Once they hit 18, if they still want to transition, they can. But it’s just protecting minors.”
  • SB100, “School District Gender Identity Policies,” which would prohibit a school or school district from making changes regarding gender identity to a student’s records or other information without written parental permission. It passed the Senate by a vote of 22-6 on Jan. 20 and received a favorable recommendation by the House’s Health and Human Services Committee on Friday, Jan. 27.
  • SB93, “Vital Records Modifications,” which would prohibit a name or gender change on a birth certificate for anyone under age 18, passed the state Senate by a vote of 19-8 on Jan. 20 and has been received by the House but not yet acted upon.
  • HB228, “Unprofessional Conduct Amendments” which would legalize conversion therapy in Utah, has been moved to committee but has not yet been voted upon.

Check out all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2023 Utah Legislature here.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2023, all rights reserved.

Jeff Richards, a native of Salt Lake City with family roots in Panguitch, lived in Moab for 20 years before joining St. George News in 2017. Jeff is a longtime journalist and secondary school teacher. He and his wife Penny are the parents of five daughters. They also have three young grandsons. Jeff and his family enjoy swimming, camping, sightseeing, reading, and taking pictures.

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