By: Darcy Saffer
“We do not allow children to make many kinds of unhealthy decisions, such as smoking, drinking, child pornography, sex with adults, and illegal drug use.”
That’s how Senator John Fuller opened his promotion of his bill at the hearing for SB99 on Friday: by equating gender transition with child porn and statutory rape. Got to protect the kids from pronouns and porn!
It went downhill from there.
My friend and I had driven through a snowstorm that day from Belgrade to Helena to join the many doctors, therapists, trans and Two Spirit folks, and parents of trans kids to voice our opposition to the bill. It’s a bill that would make it illegal for us to seek gender affirming care for our kids. A bill that would insert the state between our families and our providers, designate evidence-based practice as “child abuse,.” It would even make it illegal for our kids’ teachers to use their names and pronouns if such things didn’t match their genitals.
We sat and listened to the line-up of proponents. These included many religious right-wing organizations, such as the Montana Family Foundation, the Heritage Foundation, Restore Liberty, Moms for Liberty, and the Family Research Council. There were several out-of-state professional “detransitioners” who travel around and warn about the regrets of transitioning. There were chiropractors, a physical therapist, someone from New York who claimed to have a PhD in psychiatry, and a lot of angry, disgruntled parents and grandparents, some from Montana, some from other states.
They didn’t even pretend that parental rights applied to this topic. They all flat-out stated that parents of trans kids don’t have the same rights as everyone else. That they were singling out gender-affirming care as the One Terrible Thing that medical consensus, science, and best practices get utterly wrong. This is the hill their fanatical parental rights movement dies on. Fuller even stated, as did others, that the state needs to protect kids from “their parents’ influence.” Because surely parents like me are chomping at the bit to force our boys to be girls and force our girls to cut their hair and change their names. (Maybe they should turn the spotlight on their churches before going after us if they’re worried about “parental influence.”) I’ve never seen these rabid parental rights zombies state that the government needs to protect kids against their own parents before, and I grew up in the fundamentalist homeschooling world that invented anti-government parental rights fanaticism.
As expected, proponents started pulling “stats” out of their asses and claiming heart-rending stories of pain, regret, and “body mutilation”. One professional detransitioner claimed he’s gotten more than 10,000 emails from people who want to detransition. Another dude from a Christian organization in Billings stated that the instance of girls transitioning to boys has “increased 5000% percent,”, while people from the Heritage Foundation and the other hate groups made claims that 82% of people who transition regret it. At one point my friend leaned over and incredulously whispered, “They’re just making shit up!”
I should have made a bingo card, because they hit all the same talking points: transitioning is a lucrative business, look at Sweden, kids can’t make their own decisions, they’ll never be able to have sex or make babies (lots of obsession with how kids will have sex), trans people existing is an assault on the traditional family, people can’t make decisions until they’re 25, “I wanted to be a boy, too,when I was a kid,” “My son identified as an airplane,” and “out of state interests are trying to destroy Montana families.” (Even though the majority of proponents were out-of-state activists.)
It was one and a half hours of a daunting onslaught of bigotry, ignorance, lies, propaganda, and outright hatred. One senator at the end even equated suicide with gender transitioning, stating sarcastically that he should seek “suicide-affirming care” for his son who was determined to kill himself. It was an astonishing display of vitriolic word vomit.
When opponents got up to speak, the entire energy of the room shifted. We had twice as many people and 99% were actual Montanans. We had representatives from every hospital and medical association in the state, along with doctors, nurses, therapists, endocrinologists, independent clinics, domestic violence organizations, state representatives, and so many more.
But all my love and respect goes to the trans kids and adults who stood up to tell their stories. The youngest child to speak was 13. They fearlessly told their stories of growing up trans in Montana and begged the heartless committee to not take that away from them. It broke my heart and inspired me. I stood up and asked why they think I should get rights over two of my kids but not the other two. Parents told life-changing stories about their children to senators who didn’t care, who will probably vote this bill through anyway. I actually got a photo of Senator Theresa Manzella scrolling on her phone, and Senator Barry Usher falling asleep while one parent talked about how gender-affirming care saved his child. They are ghouls with a black hole where their hearts should be.
But Montana showed up that day. From professionals to parents to friends to children, Montana showed up to passionately voice their opposition to this cruel bill that would strip life and liberty from the most vulnerable among us. Unlike the proponents who were mostly out-of-state activists loudly claiming out-of-state activists were trying to turn our kids trans, opponents of the bill were everyday Montanans like you and me, standing up for the children of Montana. And it was beautiful. We’ve got each other’s backs, Montana. “We will fight like hell,” as Rep. Zooey Zephyr stated that day. Keep showing up, keep speaking up, and never back down.
“You may legislate with hate, but we will protect each other with love” ~Keegan Medrano, MT ACLU
Read SB 99 here: https://leg.mt.gov/bills/2023/billpdf/SB0099.pdf