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El Pasoans speak out against anti-trans legislation at state Capitol

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Legislation that would categorize gender-affirming care for trans children as “child abuse” was discussed in a Texas Senate committee hearing Monday, drawing a sharp rebuke from an El Pasoan parent.

“I’m not an abuser, I’m a mother,” said El Pasoan Melody Gomez, speaking during a Senate State Affairs Committee hearing in Austin. Gomez’s transgender daughter stood beside her, leaning on her shoulder during her testimony.

A series of legislative acts presented in the Texas Senate this week would restrict access to gender-affirming health care and participation in sports by transgender children. Bills presented Monday included Senate Bill 1646, which would define gender-affirming care for transgender children as “child abuse,” targeting parents and guardians; and SB 1311, which would revoke the medical licenses of medical professionals who perform gender-affirming procedures or treatments on trans minors. 

“All individuals are created equal, all deserving of holistic and affirming health care. We do not get to pick and choose who is deserving of care and what that care looks like,” Gomez said. 

Gomez is a social worker, the executive director of Square Peg Youth Empowerment and a facilitator of El Paso’s Trans Youth Coalition, an effort providing free and low-cost gender-affirming resources to young transgender people in need. Gomez described the process of working with her daughter’s El Paso school to affirm her gender identity, and the positive change she witnessed as her daughter transformed into her “bold, authentic self.” 

The authors of the bills, state Sens. Charles Perry and Bob Hall, both mentioned their Christian faith during the introduction of the bills, and both called upon Jeff Younger to contribute invited testimony. Younger, speaking in violation of a court gag order, described a legal battle he is embroiled in with his ex-wife, resisting gender-affirming care for their child. 

Other invited testimony in support of the bills included Dr. Alan Hopewell, former president of the Texas Psychological Association, who said “you can’t change your gender;” pastor and Texas state Rep. Bryan Slaton and counselor Jill Glover, who described pediatric gender transition as a “fad.” 

Perry and Hall haven’t responded to requests for comment from El Paso Matters. 

Kai Shappley of Pearland, Texas, left, and Adri Perez of El Paso held a banner in support of transgender rights at the Texas Capitol on Monday. (Photo courtesy of Kimberly Shappley)

In the first months of 2021, this year has already had more anti-transgender legislation introduced around the country than any other year in U.S. history. 

In early April, Arkansas became the first U.S. state to ban gender-affirming health care for trans minors, with the Legislature overriding a veto by Republican Gov. Asa Hutchison. The impacts of the new law have already been dire, with four dozen young Arkansans who receive hormone therapy attempting suicide. 

Stirring testimonies by transgender children and their parents from around Texas on Monday detailed the risks these bills would pose if passed. 

A recent study linked lowered suicide risk among transgender people to the use of puberty blockers in adolescence, a practice that would be effectively banned through these measures. Other scientific studies have shown that transgender adolescents attempt suicide at a higher rate than cisgender adolescents, and a recent national survey found that nearly half of young LGBTQ Americans had practiced self harm, with even higher numbers among trans youth. 

Individuals testifying against these bills included representatives from the Texas Psychological Association (who emphasized that former TPA president Hopewell’s attitude about gender identity is out of step with state and nationally established medical best practices), the Texas Pediatric Society and the Texas Association of Social Workers. 

Doctors for Change, a coalition of more than 1000 Texas health care providers, shared an open letter on Monday in opposition of SB 1646.

Adri Perez, a policy and advocacy strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union and a transgender El Pasoan, also spoke before the committee Monday in opposition to the measures. Speaking on behalf of themselves and the ACLU of Texas, Perez said that receiving gender-affirming care saved their life. Perez uses they/them pronouns. 

“To the transgender youth across the country who are surely watching this hearing: we see you, you are not alone, and we will never stop fighting for you,” they said. 

The TrevorLifeline offers 24/7 confidential crisis support, suicide prevention training and other resources at 1-866-488-7386.

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René Kladzyk

René Kladzyk is a musician and writer based in El Paso. She performs original music as Ziemba, and has written for publications including Teen Vogue, i-D, and The Creative Independent. Her new album came out on Sister Polygon Records in September 2020, and she is hopeful that we’ll be able to enjoy live music together IRL again soon enough.

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