GOP bill would defund health care research for transgender youth

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Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) claimed research on gender-affirming medical treatments for transgender minors 'harms kids,' but studies have shown otherwise.

Earlier this week, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) introduced a bill that would end public funding for research on transgender youth health care. Specifically, the legislation would "prohibit the use of federal funds for gender transition in minors."

"The federal government should never fund research that harms kids," Lee said in a statement. "This bill will protect taxpayers from funding spurious research, but more importantly, it will protect kids from the permanent damage this irresponsible research can produce."

The bill, called the Protecting Our Kids From Harmful Research Act, says that "no federal funds may be used to fund research or publications relating to gender transition in individuals under the age of 18," including studies on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and gender-affirming surgery.

Along with Lee, the bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Mike Braun (R-IN), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), James Lankford (R-OK), and Roger Wicker (R-MS).

Accurate, responsible medical research requires proper funding. Lee and his allies in the Senate want to do away with that funding — a move that could have a catastrophic effect on the mental and physical health of trans youths.

Research shows that transgender youth benefit from receiving age-appropriate medical care that affirms their gender identity. A 2020 study found that transgender youths who received hormone therapy and other gender-affirming care earlier in puberty had better long-term mental health compared to their older peers.

Republican attacks on federal funding don't just affect transgender youth, but the entire LGBTQ community. A 2014 study published in the American Journal of Public Health explained that an adverse political environment can have a "chilling effect" on necessary LGBTQ health care research. The study's authors found that LGBTQ health-related projects at the National Institutes of Health decreased from 2003 to 2005, "suggesting that the political environment may be responsible, in part, for the marginalization of LGBT health research at NIH."

This trend isn't just happening at the national level. Republican state lawmakers have introduced an avalanche of anti-LGBTQ bills this year, taking aim at transgender youth who want to use bathrooms and participate in team sports that correspond with their gender identity. State lawmakers across the country have introduced more than 250 anti-LGBTQ bills this year — including at least 119 bills that focused on issues affecting transgender youth —according to the Human Rights Campaign.

Republicans in Congress oppose the Equality Act, a federal bill that would prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination in health care, education, jury service, and in other public settings. And Lee, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) have all used their positions of power to hamstring confirmation hearings for Biden administration nominees who support transgender equality.

The Republican senators are in line with former President Donald Trump on anti-transgender bigotry. "Joe Biden and the Democrats are even pushing policies that would destroy women’s sports," Trump told an audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference last March.

Kellan Baker, executive director of the Whitman Walker Institute, which focuses on LGBTQ health research and policy, said Lee's latest bill comes as no surprise to LGBTQ health advocates. "It is a longstanding strategy to strangle research on things you don't want anyone to know about in order to make the argument: No data, no problem," Baker said.

"This is one of the things that we see consistently around LGBTQ population health more broadly," Baker added. "A lack of data collection on sexual orientation and gender identity then makes it impossible for us to really fully describe the problems or fully describe the issues that people are facing."

Lee's bill could jeopardize funding for at least one NIH study. The report, slated for the 2021 fiscal year, is titled, "The Impact of Early Medical Treatment in Transgender Youth."

"It would potentially be caught in the dragnet of a bill like this," Baker said of the study.

Lee has a long history of opposing LGBTQ rights, and in recent years, he has become particularly focused on attacking transgender rights. In 2012, Lee opposed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, which banned anti-LGBTQ discrimination in the workplace.

In February, Lee introduced a bill called the Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act to exclude transgender girls from girls' sports. He also raised the issue of transgender minors’ health care in March during a confirmation hearing for Vanita Gupta, the then-nominee for associate attorney general. Lee said that Gupta expressed relief that a South Dakota bill prohibiting surgery for transgender minors failed in 2020.

Lee has also claimed that the Equality Act — a law aimed at curbing anti-LGBTQ discrimination — would put cisgender women and girls in harm's way. But according to a February report from the Center for American Progress, there is "a complete lack of evidence that transgender sports participation has had any measurable impact on the success of cisgender athletes."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.