Texas expected to ban puberty blockers, hormone treatments for trans kids

People gathered on the stairs across from the House floor to protest against Senate Bill 14, which seeks to ban puberty blockers and hormone therapies for transgender youth, before it is heard for debate in the House at the state Capitol in Austin on May 12. (Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune, Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune)

For mental health support for LGBTQ youth, call the Trevor Project’s 24/7 toll-free support line at 866-488-7386. For trans peer support, call the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860. You can also reach a trained crisis counselor through the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988.

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Texas is on the brink of blocking transgender minors from getting puberty blockers and hormone therapies, treatments that leading medical groups say are important for supporting their mental health.

Gov. Greg Abbott told Fox News on Thursday that he will sign Senate Bill 14, which both legislative chambers passed this month over the fierce opposition of trans Texas kids, their parents and LGBTQ advocacy groups.

“I’m not going to make any secret about it. I’ll be signing it,” he said. “This is about protecting children.”

The Senate voted 19-12 on Wednesday to accept the House’s version of the bill and send it to Abbott’s desk. On Thursday, legal groups opposing the legislation — including the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas, Lambda Legal and the Transgender Law Center — also said they will launch a legal challenge to try to block it from taking effect.

SB 14 is a legislative priority for the Republican Party of Texas, which opposes any efforts to validate transgender identities. It’s also a key proposal among a slate of GOP bills that would restrict the rights and representation of LGBTQ Texans this session, amid a growing acceptance of Christian nationalism on the right.

Authored by New Braunfels Republican Sen. Donna Campbell, SB 14 would prohibit trans Texans under the age of 18 from accessing transition-related medical treatments including puberty blockers, hormone therapies and surgeries — though surgeries are rarely performed on kids.

The bill would also require trans youth who are already getting this care to be “weaned off” in a “medically appropriate” manner. This is slightly out of step with the abrupt cutoff mandated by the version the Senate approved last month, but the upper chamber has chosen not to ask for a conference committee to iron out the difference.

In pushing for SB 14, Campbell and other backers have disputed the research and science behind transition-related care. They also say the legislation is an effort to save Texas families from health care providers who are taking advantage of a “social contagion” and pushing life-altering treatments on kids who may later regret taking them.

“We are the Legislature — our job is to protect people,” Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, said. “We protect children against lots of things. We don’t let them smoke. We don’t let them drink. We don’t let them buy lottery cards. … And so we are doing the right thing.”

Medical groups, trans Texans and their families, however, say this care is vital to trans youths’ mental health. Treatments are also not rushed, they say. Instead, it’s a time-intensive process to access this care, including multiple required medical evaluations.

They have also warned that the House version’s proposed tapering off process is still likely to bring physical discomfort and psychological distress to a group that is already more likely to be at risk of depression and suicide than their cisgender peers. Some have also called it forced detransitioning.

“That would push me past my breaking point,” said Randell, a 16-year-old trans boy from North Texas who has been on hormone therapies for the past few years. He agreed to speak with The Texas Tribune if only this full name isn’t used to protect his safety.

Pending Abbott’s signature on SB 14, Texas — home to one of the largest trans communities in the country, including around 30,000 teens between the ages of 13 and 17 — would become one of over a dozen states that restrict transition-related care for trans minors. The ACLU, Lambda Legal and other advocacy groups for LGBTQ rights have sued several of them.

Texas lawmakers “are hellbent on joining the growing roster of states determined to jeopardize the health and lives of transgender youth, in direct opposition to the overwhelming body of scientific and medical evidence supporting this care as appropriate and necessary,” the legal groups said in a joint statement Thursday. “We will defend the rights of transgender youth in court, just as we have done in other states engaging in this anti-science and discriminatory fear-mongering.”

And already, the prospect of losing access to these treatments has prompted many parents of trans kids — including Randell’s — to consider traveling out of state for care or flee Texas altogether, costly options that are not available to all. Others have also spoken publicly about not wanting to abandon the community that they love or that their families have been in for generations.

“We’re not going to be able to know how many children will be ‘saved,’ as it’s been called, from this lifestyle, but we will definitely be able to track what harm it may cause,” said Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, on Wednesday. “It is my hope that every child affected by this bill can have a chance to grow up and see that things will get better.”

Disclosure: The ACLU of Texas has been a financial supporter 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.

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