Florida medical boards ban care for transgender minors

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Florida’s medical board approved a rule Friday that will bar minors from receiving puberty blockers, hormone therapy or surgeries as treatments for gender dysphoria.

The ban, which will come into effect after a 21-day public comment period, includes non-surgical exceptions for young people already receiving care. Doctors who violate the new rules could face penalties, including losing their medical licenses.

Other states have tried to restrict such care but Florida is the first to do so through its medical boards. The legislatures of Arkansas and Alabama have approved similar measures but families have filed lawsuits against both and the judges are prohibited from taking effect as the litigation takes effect. Arizona lawmakers also passed a ban earlier this year but that law has not yet taken effect and activists have vowed to sue.

Numerous professional organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, and the Endocrine Society, have endorsed puberty blockers and hormones as appropriate treatments for youth with gender dysphoria. Studies have found that puberty blockers and hormone therapy can reduce emotional distress for transgender youth and reduce the risk of suicide.

Preventing young people from accessing that care “could have tragic health consequences,” the head of the American Medical Association said last year.

Despite that guidance, Florida’s conservative leaders have repeatedly tried to prevent young people from transferring. Republicans tried to pass a ban earlier this year but the bill died in committee.

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In April, the Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo proposed guidelines that young people should not be allowed to socially transition by using a different name, pronouns or style of clothing, or receive gender-affirming medical care such as puberty . inhibitors or transhormone therapy.

In June, citing “extremely weak” evidence supporting gender-affirming care, Ladapo called on the medical board to “establish a standard of care for these complex and irreversible procedures.” DeSantis appointed all 14 members of the board, and a Tampa Bay Times analysis this week found that at least eight have donated to the Republican governor’s campaign or political committee.

The board met Friday afternoon — so close to the midterm elections that one state representative, Democrat Anna Eskamani, accused the board of using the vote to support DeSantis’ re-election.

Although the joint board finally accepted public comments from 16 people – eight for and eight against the rule – members voted on the rule before listening to the public.

In a split vote that a medical board lawyer said he had never seen, the Board of Osteopathic Medicine will allow new patients who enroll in clinical trials to receive care, but the Florida Board of Medicine will not. That means there will be two standards in the state, one for its 57,354 medical doctors and another for its 7,842 osteopathic doctors. (Like medical doctors, osteopathic doctors prescribe medications and perform surgeries but go through a different four-year training process and focus on preventative care, rather than treating symptoms.)

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David A. Diamond, a radiation oncologist and chairman of the medical board, was one of three dissenters who voted to keep the exception for medical doctors as well.

“The biggest point of agreement among all the experts — and I must emphasize this — is that additional high-quality clinical research is urgently needed,” Diamond said. “I say let’s study it. … Let us be a light to the world as to what is the best care for these people. Otherwise we’ll never know.”

The board’s decision came after a long and emotional committee meeting in October. Committee members met for five hours in a conference room at an Orlando airport hotel, and activists who supported the ban flew in from around the country to testify.

Many of these said they had experienced trauma and once thought the transition would ease their mental health struggles. They said they had taken cross-gender hormones and undergone surgical procedures but later regretted those interventions. (A group of Princeton researchers recently found that only 2.5 percent of transgender youth reverted to their pre-birth gender within five years.)

Chloe Cole, who described herself as an “18-year-old transgender girl” from California’s Central Valley, said she began transitioning at 12 and had a double mastectomy at 15. She said she was “deeply sorry ” that procedure now.

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“I want to be a mother someday, and I still can’t give my children a natural life in the future,” Cole said. “My chest was beautiful. And now they are burned for nothing.”

For the past six months, Cole has been one of the most prominent speakers in the devolution movement. She has testified before lawmakers in Louisiana, Ohio, DC, and California. Last month, she spoke in Nashville at right-wing political commentator Matt Walsh’s “Rally to End Child Mutilation.”

At least one member of the Florida committee said she felt Cole’s testimony was compelling and reason enough to prevent minors from receiving the care.

Fifty trans rights activists attended the committee meeting, and many registered to speak, but only one, Jude Speegle, was given time during the public comment period. Speegle read the names of 17 trans teenagers who “chose suicide rather than live in a world that refused to acknowledge or accept them.”

Soon after Speegle finished, the committee’s chairman, Fort Lauderdale cardiologist Zachariah P. Zachariah, cut the meeting short. When the crowd complained that Zachariah prevented them from speaking after he allowed nine demobilization activists to testify, Zachariah told the crowd to send him an email.

The crowd protested and started shouting: “Their blood is on your hands.”

Zachariah, a longtime board member who wrote a $25,000 check to Friends of Ron DeSantis in May, remained unfazed.

“That’s fine,” he said.

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