Georgia lawmakers push partial ban on gender-affirming care

Former Division of Children and Family Services Director Tom Rawlings, front seated left, and Republican Georgia Sen. Carden Summers, seated right, of Cordele, testify on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023, at the state Capitol in Atlanta. They favor a bill that would stop teachers from talking to students about gender. (AP Photo/Jeff Amy)

A Georgia Senate bill is advancing to bar some kinds of gender-affirming care in the state for anyone younger than 18 — part of a nationwide effort by conservatives to restrict transgender athletes, gender-affirming care and drag shows.

Senate Bill 140 was passed on a 10-4 vote Wednesday by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. It would ban most sex-reassignment surgeries and hormone-replacement therapies. However, unlike laws adopted in some other states, it would still allow doctors to prescribe medicines to block puberty.

“We’re simply saying we want a wait-and-see approach, a do-no-harm approach,” said Sen. Carden Summers, a Cordele Republican who sponsored the measure.

Like other supporters, Summers argues that people younger than 18 are too young to make such decisions. Jeff Graham, director LGBTQ rights group Georgia Equality, says doctors don’t routinely perform such surgeries, although some occur in exceptional cases.

Opponents said it’s an unconstitutional violation of equal protection because it would still allow some kinds of surgeries. They also decried the state’s attempt to override what parents and physicians decide is best.

“The sponsors of this bill insist on being in the doctor’s office with me,” said Jen Slipakoff of Kennesaw, the parent of a transgender girl. “It is the height of hubris to think you know better than me and my daughter’s doctor about what she needs.”

Slipakoff lost a race for state House as a Democrat in 2018.

The committee adopted the bill after hearing testimony supporting another, more restrictive bill, that includes language that has been introduced in multiple states.

“What we’re discussing are sterilizing and mutilating treatments that are horrific in their impact on minors,” said Taylor Hawkins of Frontline Policy Action, a conservative Christian group that wants to ban puberty blockers and sanction doctors and hospitals that provide gender-affirming care.

Summers rejected that approach, saying Georgia’s Composite Medical Board can provide oversight, as it currently does on a wide range of issues.

Georgia lawmakers this year have also considered another bill authored by Summers that seeks to stop teachers from talking to students about gender identity, although it has not reappeared yet after a hearing where Summers pledged to rewrite it. Last year, Gov. Brian Kemp pushed through a measure that cleared the way for the Georgia High School Association to ban transgender athletes from playing on the school sports teams matching their gender identity.

Elizabeth Wagner of Berkeley Lake, the parent of a transgender son, said lawmakers need to stop targeting the group.

“My child did not choose to be in this situation, to be treated as less than by society, to be misunderstood and judged because who he is makes you uncomfortable,” Wagner said.

The governor of Mississippi said Tuesday he would sign a ban on gender-affirming care passed in that state, joining governors in Utah and South Dakota. Judges have temporarily blocked similar laws in Arkansas and Alabama.