By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
A state senator is proposing legislation that would treat performing gender-related treatment on children as child abuse.
Sen. Charlie Scott, R-Casper, told Cowboy State Daily on Friday that he has drafted a bill that would place “sex change treatments for children” under Wyoming’s child abuse statutes. Such treatments could include puberty-blocking drugs, cross-sex hormones and surgeries such as double mastectomies and castration.
Child abuse is punishable in Wyoming by up to 10 years in prison.
Scott said the bill is designed to protect children from permanent bodily changes they’re not old enough to consent to properly.
Sara Burlingame, executive director of Wyoming Equality, countered, telling Cowboy State Daily that such restrictions are symptoms of government overreach and of a social crisis in Wyoming – of a failure to affirm transgender children in their identities.
Burlingame, who is also a former legislator and a Democratic legislative candidate in Cheyenne, said she can’t speak to Scott’s bill directly because she has not seen it, but she addressed the concept generally.
Wyoming Equality is a nonprofit organization advocating for LGBTQ rights in Wyoming.
‘A Very Major Change’
Scott said his draft legislation draws from legal ideas about children’s inability generally to consent to sex acts.
“(Some of these treatments) remove their ability to ever have natural children,” said Scott. “And you wind up with somebody who’s got one set of physical features and another set of genetic features – and probably that results in some features of both sexes. It is a very major change.”
Scott said consent is paramount for life-altering procedures.
“Somebody who’s legally a child, under the age of 18, really hasn’t lived long enough or reached an appropriate level of maturity to appreciate and understand all the effects of that change,” he said.
He said parents also shouldn’t be able to choose such procedures for their children.
The senator said he’s not interested in regulating gender-related treatments for adults.
“It’s a free country and (adult) people, if they can afford it, can do all kinds of things,” said Scott. “But for children the answer is ‘no.’ They’re just not old enough to understand the consequences well enough.”
‘Political and Wrongheaded’
Burlingame said efforts to restrict access to “gender-affirming” care are overreach by laymen into an area of life that is private and reliant on medical expertise.
“The conversation about gender-affirming care for minors and adults revolves around their mental health as much as it does their physical health,” said Burlingame. “And study after study confirms that when you can affirm someone in their identity – and it’s the same way all of us, however we identify, hope to have done – then it benefits us and our community.”
Burlingame said surgery is very different from hormones, and people need to allow families to take a nuanced look at each child’s situation without the larger society exerting control over those decisions.
“This whole idea that, like, politicians or laypeople will set the standard for surgeons – if we cannot hear how inherently political and wrongheaded that is, then we have all become extremists,” she said. “It’s like we’ve forgotten that there are experts who are skilled in this, and whose job it is to discern the medical benefits. That has to be the question; not how I feel about it.”
Burlingame said that children receiving gender-related treatments is “not the crisis in Wyoming.”
The true crisis, she said, is the alarm expressed by some Wyomingites in reaction to transgender presentation and care.
Burlingame urged Wyomingites to affirm transgender youths in their gender identities, saying that transgender youth are more prone to self-harm or societal harm when they are not affirmed.
“I believe people in Wyoming are fundamentally good, and it would break their hearts to know the damage they’re doing to these vulnerable children,” she said.
Burlingame referenced a 13-year-old boy, “assigned female at birth,” who she said had to leave the state because of hostility.
Burlingame became tearful. “He loves Wyoming. He loves us … and having to explain to him how animated people are to make sure that his identity is not recognized, and that his health care needs are not going to be met, is heartbreaking.”
An Early Co-Sponsor
Rep. Chip Neiman, R-Hulett, said he plans to support Scott’s bill in the hopes of curbing long-term issues for children who come to regret receiving gender-related bodily alterations.
“For an innocent child who is … told it’s OK to go and have your breasts removed or your genitalia cut off and reshaped, and all the long-term consequences and implications of that – you don’t work through it at that point – you are going to deal with issues the rest of your life,” said Neiman.
If it passes the Legislature, the bill will become the first law in Wyoming to restrict access to gender-related treatments for children.
Wyoming’s lawmaking session convenes in January.