BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Starting next year, anyone in Idaho who provides gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth could end up a convicted felon, after the state’s Republican governor signed legislation banning the treatment late Tuesday.
At least one organization has already promised to sue over the new law. The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho announced Wednesday it was looking for potential plaintiffs for the lawsuit and asked anyone impacted by the legislation to reach out.
Idaho is one of at least 13 states to enact a law restricting or banning gender-affirming care for minors, and nearly two dozen more are considering similar bills. Under Idaho’s new law, physicians will face up to 10 years in prison if they provide hormones, puberty blockers or other gender-affirming care to people under age 18.
Opponents of the legislation say it will likely increase suicide rates among teens, but proponents say the bill is necessary to “protect children” from medical or surgical treatments for gender dysphoria.
Still, supporters acknowledge there’s no indication that gender-affirming surgeries are being performed on transgender youth in Idaho.
“In signing this bill, I recognize our society plays a role in protecting minors from surgeries or treatments that can irreversibly damage their healthy bodies,” Gov. Brad Little wrote in his signing statement. “However, as policymakers we should take great caution whenever we consider allowing the government to interfere with loving parents and their decisions about what is best for their children.”
Gender-affirming care for youth is supported by every major medical organization, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychiatric Association.
Medical professionals define gender dysphoria as severe psychological distress experienced by those whose gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth.
The organization Add the Words Idaho, which advocates for equal rights and treatment for LGBTQ+ people, said the law violates parent’s rights and sends a signal to all medical professionals that they are not welcome in the state. Chelsea Gaona-Lincoln, the organization’s executive director, said the group has been fielding “frantic” calls from despairing families.
“We are watching parental rights being dismantled in the name of stigmatizing and harming our most vulnerable youth,” Gaona-Lincoln said. “The fear in parents’ voices is real as they do not know what to tell their teens or how to provide them with hope while their elected representatives actively attempt to legislate them out of existence.”
Gender-affirming care for youth under age 18 will be allowed for “medically verifiable disorders,” including children who are born intersex, with both male and female physical traits.
ACLU of Idaho executive director Leo Morales said the law is discriminatory.
“For lawmakers to interfere in decisions that ought to be made by families and their healthcare providers is clear government overreach and is unacceptable,” Morales said in a statement.
Little’s spokesperson Madison Hardy said the governor’s office had received nearly 20,000 calls and emails from people who were in favor of the legislation by Tuesday evening, as well as more than 11,500 from people urging him to veto the bill.
The bill was one of several anti-LGBTQ bills introduced during Idaho’s legislative session.
Last week the governor signed a bill restricting transgender kids’ school bathroom access by barring them from using locker rooms, changing facilities or bathrooms that match their gender. That bill requires school facilities accessible by more than one person at a time to be designated for “male persons only or female persons only.” A person who encounters someone of the opposite sex in a bathroom can sue the school district for $5,000 for each instance.
Little has yet to sign a bill that would allow parents to sue libraries and public schools for $2,500 if anything deemed “harmful to minors” is made available to their child. The definition of “harmful to minors” includes any depiction of an act of homosexuality as well as any “intimate sexual acts.” The governor has until Thursday afternoon to either sign the bill, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature.
Other bills died in the Legislature. One would have prohibited schools from discussing gender identity or sexual orientation before fifth grade. Another could have been interpreted as requiring schools to inform a student’s parents if the student discloses a change in their sexual orientation or gender identity.