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South Dakota Lawmakers Seek To Ban Treatment For Transgender Teenagers


To South Dakota now, where state lawmakers are moving on a bill criminalizing gender confirmation surgery for minors under 16. It also bars doctors from prescribing puberty blockers for them. Now similar bills are popping up across the country. As South Dakota Public Broadcasting's Lee Strubinger reports, that state is the furthest along in passing such a bill.

LEE STRUBINGER, BYLINE: Puberty was like a puzzle for Quinncy Parke. The 17-year-old from Sioux Falls is nonbinary and uses the pronouns they/them. When puberty arrived, so did a lot of distress.

QUINNCY PARKE: At first, I just tried to ignore it and do my own thing, as I've always done. But eventually, it got unbearable.

STRUBINGER: When I caught up with Quinncy outside a hearing at the state Capitol, they told me that's when they started seeing multiple counselors and psychologists. The puzzle started coming together after they were diagnosed with gender dysphoria, the distress from a mismatch between gender identity and sex assigned at birth. The diagnosis gave Quinncy the language to describe how they felt. And, eventually, doctors prescribed puberty blockers, a medication suppressing hormones that arise during puberty. Their mother, Kim Parke, says it was a long and thoughtful process to get there.

KIM PARKE: Hoping that we would end up making the right decision - and in the end, we did.

STRUBINGER: But a bill in the South Dakota state legislature wants to make that decision a class one misdemeanor. It would be a crime for doctors to perform gender-confirming surgery or prescribe puberty blockers for kids under 16, at which age, many kids have already gone through significant body changes. Republican Representative Fred Deutsch is the prime sponsor of the bill. He says the state's role is to protect children.

FRED DEUTSCH: It's simply a pause button to help them figure out who they are at a young age without having these medical procedures done to their body, which could, potentially, be permanent.

STRUBINGER: He says he spent much of the spring exploring the Internet and found stories online about people regretting transitioning.

DEUTSCH: I was overwhelmed with all the children I saw on Twitter - a lot of them detransitioners. Many of them said, hey, go to Reddit. There's a detransition Reddit.

STRUBINGER: Within a month, Deutsch decided to act. He looked into whether doctors in South Dakota were performing these procedures and prescribing hormones and blockers.

DEUTSCH: I found enough that I decided to write a bill.

MARA KEISLING: That is not what this is about.

STRUBINGER: That's Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. She says the bill is not drafted out of concern for transgender people, of which very few detransition.

KEISLING: This is about people who are trying to live their full lives, even while they're under attack by their own state senators and their own state representatives.

STRUBINGER: Keisling says the bill is politically and socially motivated. Similar legislation is popping up in Florida, Missouri, South Carolina, Colorado and Illinois. Last fall, Representative Deutsch traveled to a Heritage Foundation summit in Washington, D.C. While there, he says he handed out about a dozen drafts of the bill to lawmakers from other states. Meanwhile, in South Dakota, dozens of pediatricians have spoken out against the bill, and outnumbered Democrats unanimously oppose it. One of them is Representative Erin Healy from Sioux Falls. She says the proposed law infringes on the relationship between patients and physicians.

ERIN HEALY: We don't have to worry about surgeries and hormones and puberty blockers are safe - and it's incredibly unfortunate that we are not listening to our providers, who are the true professionals.

STRUBINGER: Republican Gov. Kristi Noem says she has concerns with the bill. A state committee will hear the legislation on Monday. While 17-year-old Quinncy Parke won't be impacted by the bill if it becomes law, they worry about others who go through a similar situation and do not receive medication.

QUINNCY: It makes kids like me who are kids and are very sure of who we are and how we see the world - it makes a very painful impact on us.

STRUBINGER: That, they say, will delay others' chance of putting the puzzle pieces together.

For NPR News, I'm Lee Strubinger in Pierre. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.