By now we all know that Republican House Speaker Matt Reiger is putting Montana on the map by silencing Democratic Representative Zooey Zephyr for her plea to vote no on SB 99 on the House floor last week.
Let’s talk about SB 99 , the bill with a short title called, “Provide for a youth health protection act,” which I find rather ironic. Did the bill’s sponsor, Senator John Fuller, intentionally give this bill a name that does not correlate to its identity?
This bill does not protect transgender youth, but instead prohibits gender affirming care by medical professionals who treat minors for gender dysphoria by criminalizing health care professionals and prohibiting professional liability via insurance. Can you see the physicians leaving the state yet?
For a lot of reasons, I do not support this bill, but, most significantly, because I have a transgender nephew. It was a very painful process for my entire family, especially my nephew, to go through this transition. It wasn’t painful because my nephew was confused, it was painful in terms that we all had to learn a new way— new terms, a new person, a new appearance. We had to learn a new way to love and support my nephew, who fortunately, was given a gender-neutral name at birth, so that was one constant. It wasn’t as simple as checking a box, or waking up one morning and deciding that he was a boy. It was a process riddled with mistakes, despite lots of healthcare professional support.
I know my family’s experience was easy compared to what many other Montana families experience. My nephew grew up in San Diego where my brother lives, so, as you can imagine, the access to exceptional medical care that comes with a metropolitan city was readily available. The medical community was well prepared to walk us through the transition and provide family resources. And, my brother has excellent health insurance. Many transgender Montanans do not have decent insurance–especially with legislation aimed at erasing them. We were fortunate.
In our case, we made it a priority to hold an open-mind and go through this as an accepting and loving family—even when it seemed sort of crazy. Yes, it is weird to change pronouns. I remember asking my sister-in-law, “so now I can’t say niece, what do I say?” She effortlessly said, “Just say my brother’s oldest kid, leave the gender out.” That was before we learned the term “nibling.”
The awkwardness lasts a very short time and the new normal takes over, and you don’t even notice anymore. It just takes effort and, let me tell you, we fumbled and fucked up, but we were able to laugh at ourselves and be honest. I believe it has brought our family closer together because this experience showed us what is truly important—life, love, and the unconditional support of one another. The right to live and let live.
The Republican legislators in this body do not care how many lives are at stake by passing this bill. Not even a heartbreaking letter from an ER physician was enough to convince our Christian Montana governor to reconsider his deplorable position. The letter details the sad case of one Montana trans youth brought in after a failed suicide attempt, and who attributed their hopelessness to “my state doesn’t want me.”
My nephew was required to go through YEARS of therapy (with a licensed physician specializing in gender affirming care) and, only when it was determined that my nephew would absolutely benefit from different therapeutic interventions, were options offered. It wasn’t simply a primary care doctor and some prescriptions handed out. It was methodical, yet fluid, and the plan changed as new things developed. Only years after THAT was my nephew able to have “top surgery” – another term we had to learn, to have his breasts removed.
Gratefully, my nephew is now engaged to his life partner, and doing all the normal things that couples do. He has a job he loves and is living a full life in a community and family that honors and respects his life.
Transgender, nonbinary, and gender diversity is not something that citizens should meddle into, much less lawmakers. It should be left to the individuals, families, and medical professionals going through this experience. It has been painful, and provocative, to listen to some of the legislators testify so brazenly about a very sensitive, serious, personal issue. If the Governor, the Freedom Caucus, and the state Republicans (Glimm, Gist, Galloway, Sheldon-Galloway, Emrich, and McKamey) truly want to protect trans youth and LGBTQ+ kids as they claim, then they should take action to support Gender Health programs in the state. They could introduce legislation to study the needs of the LGBTQ+ and trans people, they could invite and encourage trained, compassionate physicians, social workers, mental health professionals and others to increase access for this specific group of individuals who deserve quality healthcare like ALL MONTANANS. Full-spectrum healthcare is not asking for too much!
Instead of seeking to erase transgender kids from Montana, perhaps Senator Fuller should look to his home state of Illinois for guidance. They just passed a law protecting people who provide or receive gender-affirming care.
Last Friday SB 99 was transmitted to Governor Gianforte to be signed into law, and, if signed, we can no longer refer to ourselves as the Last Best Place.
For basic information about Gender Dysphoria and a glossary of medical terms, check out the American Psychiatric Association page on Gender Dysphoria.I found this site to be a good reference, too.