A new bill proposing a state Transgender Wellness and Equity Fund has become the subject of debate between lawmakers and Californians.
The purpose of AB 2218, authored by Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles), is to fund grants “to organizations serving people that identify as transgender, gender nonconforming, or intersex (TGI).”
Funds would be dedicated to “TGI-specific housing programs and partnerships with hospitals, health care clinics, and the medical providers to provide TGI-focused health care … and related education programs.”
The measure passed the state Senate Appropriations Committee 5–2 on Aug. 20. A second reading on the senate floor was scheduled for Aug. 24.
Opponents worry the funding will help procedures to block puberty in minors, and that this may cause those minors to become permanently sterile. Proponents of the bill argue that it’s about other forms of help for transgender people—that the use of puberty blockers is rare and can be halted without leading to sterility.
Greg Burt, director of capitol engagement for California Family Council, told The Epoch Times: “These drugs will sterilize you, especially if you take puberty blockers, which start before a child is transitioning through puberty, and then you give them cross sex hormone. These kids aren’t going to have biological children.”
Burt referred to a consent form issued by the Center for TransYouth Health and Development at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
The form, titled “Pubertal Blockers for Minors in Early Adolescence,” states: “If your child starts puberty blockers in the earliest stages of puberty, and then goes on to gender affirming hormones, they will not develop sperm or eggs. This means that they will not be able to have biological children.”
Then, in text that is underlined and italicized, the form reads: “This is an important aspect of blocking puberty and progressing to hormones that you should understand prior to moving forward with puberty suppression.”
It’s a two-step process: first, puberty is blocked, then hormones are administered. The form clarifies that if a child doesn’t proceed to the second step, pubertal development will resume in 6 to 12 months and fertility would ostensibly be maintained.
Forms with similar warnings have been issued by British Columbia Children’s Hospital in Canada and Fenway Health Clinic in Boston, Massachusetts.
“When you read the risk of puberty blockers, the language is emphatic,” Burt said. “So that’s not just a slight warning. That’s almost like a promise.”
‘It’s not like buying Tylenol’
Thomi Clinton, executive director of Transgender Health and Wellness Center in Cathedral City, California, said it’s not easy for minors to procure hormone blockers.
“It’s not like buying Tylenol over the counter,” Clinton told The Epoch Times. “[The process] is complicated. They have to go through a lot of mental health [screenings], they have to go meet a doctor—there’s a lot of hurdles.”
Clinton said hormones reduce sperm and egg production. “But let’s say the child goes, ‘You know what, this is not who I am.’ They can be taken off puberty blockers and they start developing again.”
Clinton, whose Wellness Center is a co-sponsor of AB 2218, said the pandemic has exacerbated a health crisis in the transgender community, which added extra urgency to ensuring that the bill passes.
“The trans community is a very unique community, and so it has unique needs. And they’re pretty much, in my opinion, being overlooked by a lot of general funding that’s going out there.”
Help for Transgender People
According to a recent survey Clinton conducted among transgender individuals in the Inland Empire, 81 percent have recently contemplated suicide and 54 percent have made attempts.
“It’s alarming,” Clinton said. “This [bill] would specifically help that community and focus on their needs, which is access to health care, and social services. What I would like to see is that all of them are working, all of them are paying taxes, all of them have housing, they can pay their rent, they can get a car, instead of them constantly being [a] burden on everybody, tax-wise.”
“Everyone should work, everyone should have access to health care if they need it, and be productive members of society and contribute,” Clinton said.
Burt said he isn’t against much of what the bill provides transgender people, but he would like to see language added to prevent certain treatments and procedures for minors.
“We’re not complaining about everything that’s in the bill. We’re just complaining about the part that they call health care, the surgeries and the drugs that are permanently damaging people,” Burt said. “That’s what we’re highlighting. And we’re highlighting it because it’s becoming a trend in California government to promote this type of transitioning in elementary schools.”
He said it’s about adults being able to decide for themselves what they want, but minors being easily persuaded. “No 11- and 10-year-old knows who they are. And many of these kids, once they go through puberty, they change their mind.”
“So just make the bill [say] we will not fund any treatment that harms reproductive systems until a kid is 18,” he said. “I mean, can we just agree that this is really, really bad for minors?”
Legislators who support the bill argued at an Aug. 10 Senate Health Committee meeting that the bill doesn’t say anything about sterilizing youth.
“Unfortunately, people have been misled,” Santiago, the bill’s author, said. “Let me be very clear and set the record straight: Nothing in this bill—nothing, I will repeat—talks about sterilizing kids.”
Several senators who voted in favor of the bill reported receiving hundreds of call from concerned constituents.
“I felt bad for the people who were calling to ask us to vote no because I do think they were misled,” Sen. Connie Leyva (D-San Bernardino) said at the same meeting. “There is nothing in this bill that talks about sterilizing children. It really talks about health care for individuals who identify as transgender.”
Though the bill doesn’t mention sterilizing minors, the concern among critics remains that funding clinics and organizations that provide puberty blocking services to minors may have that result.
Other critics object to the cost.
A No Vote
Sen. Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) was one of the two senators who voted “No” on the bill.
“With California struggling to fund existing health care programs due to COVID-19 and the resulting economic shutdown, I do not believe it is prudent to create new spending commitments like AB 2218,” she said in a statement released to The Epoch Times.
While the exact amount of funding for the bill has yet to be determined, the Department of Finance declined to support the measure at an Aug. 17 Senate Appropriations Committee meeting.
“We’re opposed to this measure because it would likely result in general fund impacts not included in the 2020 Budget Act,” said Jolie Onodera, legislative director of the Department of Finance. “I would note that this bill would create cost pressures to the Department of Public Health, potentially in the low millions of dollars to support additional staffing, resources and contractors needed for this program.”
Bates also said the supports for transgender youth the bill is meant to promote are already present in the medical profession: “It is important to note that all medical professionals are already trained to be culturally and medically sensitive toward all patients, regardless of gender identity.”