GOP Texas senators pull their support for allowing some transgender kids to keep receiving puberty blockers and hormone therapy

State Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, speaks on the Senate floor at the Texas Capitol last month. (Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune, Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune)

Sign up for The Brief, The Texas Tribune’s daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

Republican Texas senators on Monday reversed themselves and voted against allowing transgender kids currently being treated with puberty blockers and hormone therapy to continue receiving such care.

[What transition-related health care is available to transgender kids in Texas? Here’s what you should know.]

That reversal essentially expanded Senate Bill 14’s proposed ban on transition-related care to include all transgender children — as outlined in the legislation’s original version. The chamber voted 19-12 along party lines Tuesday to give final approval to the broader version of the bill, which is priority legislation for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. SB 14 will now advance to the House.

Monday’s vote to expand the restrictions and advance the legislation came days after the GOP-controlled Senate agreed to allow kids already on puberty blockers and hormone therapy by early June to keep their access to those treatments. Major medical groups approve of such care and say it lessens higher rates of depression and suicide for trans youth.

Republican Sen. Donna Campbell of New Braunfels, SB 14’s author, said Monday that she wanted to remove the exceptions because they weren’t discussed in a committee hearing before reaching the full Senate.

“There were so many questions that have been brought up since the amendment was put on that out of respect for the body, we’re going to ask that it be taken down,” she said.

[Texas Republicans have filed dozens of bills affecting LGBTQ people. Here’s what they’d do.]

Campbell also successfully introduced an amendment to move the bill’s effective date from Dec. 1 to Sept. 1, 2023.

Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, vocally pushed back against removing the exceptions, which would have allowed more transgender kids to receive care that many medical groups say is vital to their mental health. During committee debates for both SB 14 and its companion House bill, the Texas Medical Association has also called for lawmakers to allow trans youth who are already receiving transition-related medical treatments such as puberty blockers or hormone therapy to continue receiving them.

“I know that those who have been to medical school are intimately familiar of the concept of ‘do no harm.’ In fact, we spoke of this, and that was the genesis for the amendment that would have grandfathered those young people who are currently under treatment,” he said Tuesday. “We hear testimony on how abrupt end of treatment negatively impacts folks from their bodies to their mental health to suicide ideation. And members, I hope to God, I pray to God, that none of you ever have to hear from someone you love that they have considered or that they have attempted suicide. I hope you never have to experience that.”

Menéndez then urged trans youth and their parents who are watching the hearing to stay strong amid the advancement of the legislation.

“Please don’t let this or anything we do in this building discourage you from flourishing,” he said.

Andrea Segovia, senior field and policy adviser for the Transgender Education Network of Texas, told The Texas Tribune Monday that the Senate's reversal was disappointing. She’d seen the move to scale down the bill’s proposed restrictions last week as a sign that lawmakers were listening to the overwhelming public opposition to the legislation.

Ricardo Martinez, CEO of LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Texas, shared Segovia’s sentiment.

“Last week we saw a small glimmer of compassion when Senators were willing to accommodate trans kids who are already receiving medical care by allowing them to continue with their treatment plans. Today, the Senate deleted its last hint of kindness from the record,” he said in a Monday statement to the Tribune.

Now, LGBTQ advocates will continue to fight in order to shut down these efforts in the lower chamber.

“A parent told me yesterday, ‘I just feel like I’m in constant whiplash from the state, like I’m constantly getting into a wreck with people who are trying to create laws for my kid — and I just feel so beat up physically and mentally,’” Segovia said. “That’s what we’re doing to people.”

Campbell has previously painted doctors providing transition-related care as opportunists capitalizing on a “social contagion” with treatments that lack sufficient scientific data that could determine whether the care is safe and effective.

But in an hourslong Senate committee hearing about the bill, medical groups testified about the wealth of scientific evidence backing mental health benefits of transition-related care for transgender youth. Trans youth who take puberty blockers are significantly less likely to experience lifetime suicidal ideation than those who want the care and don’t get it, according to recent studies.

Over the objections of hundreds of doctors, medical groups and LGBTQ Texans, Republican lawmakers have said the legislation is needed to protect children and that medical studies don’t support the benefits of such care.

“This is not science-based practice,” Campbell said last week.

Campbell’s fellow Senate Republicans passed the exception for kids already receiving such care last week, but that move quickly came under fire from the Republican Party of Texas and its far-right leader, Matt Rinaldi.

“With this amendment, Texas is abandoning every child currently being abused,” Rinaldi tweeted.

Before Rinaldi weighed in, the House author of the proposal, Rep. Tom Oliverson, had defended the change in a March 30 statement. He said it was “factually inaccurate and misleading” to claim they had weakened the legislation.

Patrick Svitek contributed to this story.

Disclosure: Equality Texas and Texas Medical Association have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

We can’t wait to welcome you Sept. 21-23 to the 2023 Texas Tribune Festival, our multiday celebration of big, bold ideas about politics, public policy and the day’s news — all taking place just steps away from the Texas Capitol. When tickets go on sale in May, Tribune members will save big. Donate to join or renew today.