Pennsylvania was front and center in last week’s debacle in the House on gender-affirming care. The July 27 hearing before the House Subcommittee on the Constitution and Limited Government focused on gender dysphoria, Title IX and women’s sports and parental decision-making around gender-affirming care for minors. Featuring what LGBTQ+ rights advocates have come to see as a “usual suspects” list, many of the same witnesses who have testified in favor of state bills restricting trans rights were there to speak: noted transphobes, detransitioners and those claiming to have been harmed by trans athletes in sports.
Medical professionals largely agree that gender-affirming care is an accepted standard of treatment for trans youth, care that mostly includes puberty blockers and hormone treatments. It is supported by every major medical association, including the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, among others, representing more than 1.3 million American doctors. Studies have shown transgender youth who do not receive gender-affirming care are at higher risk of attempting suicide or suicidal ideation.
Congresswoman Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (PA-05), ranking member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Limited Government, was a leading voice for trans youth and their families at the July 27 hearing. Convened by the Republican majority and titled “The Dangers and Due Process Violations of ‘Gender-Affirming Care’ for Children,” the two hour hearing, which aired on C-SPAN, was a travesty.
Scanlon put it succinctly in her opening statement, in which she detailed the perils trans youth and their families are facing. Scanlon concluded her statement saying, “I must object to this callous and reckless use of this committee’s time.”
Scanlon also scuttled noted transphobe and leader of the extremist Freedom Caucus, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). In the first minutes of the hearing, Scanlon used a procedural motion to block Greene, who is not a part of the subcommittee, from introducing the witnesses.
Another Freedom Caucus member, Florida’s Rep. Matt Gaetz, was shouted down by someone in the room. And in peak dismissal of the impact of gender-affirming care on trans lives, Rep. Wesley Hunt (R-Tex.) used a food pyramid chart to argue against gender-affirming care for minors, claiming it would be the same as feeding kids ice cream at every meal.
“If my children had their way, they would have ice cream for breakfast, lunch and dinner and for every single meal in between. Oh, the wisdom of children!” Hunt said.
Hunt also said, “Many of my colleagues on the left want you to believe there isn’t widespread agreement on how to treat gender dysphoria. I can assure you that child mutilation is not the answer.”
New York Democrat Rep. Jerry Nadler interrupted Johnson early on in the hearing, saying, “Mr. Chairman, today’s hearing is an all-time low for the Republican majority. In my three decades in Congress, I have taken part in plenty of hearings where I did not agree with the choice of topic to say the least, but I am absolutely disgusted by the Republican majority’s bullying bigoted framing of an issue that would otherwise be worthy of serious discussion.”
Nadler said, “What we are witnessing today is nothing less than a taxpayer-funded platform for congressional Republicans to bully transgender kids who are already some of the most vulnerable members of our community.”
Nadler was not wrong. The title of the hearing alone said it skewed right and skewed transphobic. Louisiana’s Rep. Mike Johnson set the tone as he opened the hearing saying, “No parent has a constitutional right to injure their children.”
Calling gender-affirming care “barbarism,” Johnson asserted, “This is the mutilation of children and it should be prohibited by our law.”
One of many problems of the hearing was GOP speakers blurring the lines between sexual orientation and gender identity — a trend started by Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis with his “Don’t Say Gay” laws. DeSantis has folded drag shows, trans athletes and book bans into his repertoire as he struggles in the GOP presidential primary.
Johnson took that tack in the hearing, saying, “The reach of radical sexual identity politics isn’t limited to young children alone.”
“We see this extended to young adults, especially at the university level now,” Johnson added. “The modern left applauds men competing in women’s college athletics. We see universities captured by academics advancing this ideology on students across our country.”
Johnson alleged a veritable conspiracy in academia to transify and gay-up students, asserting, “Whether it’s by scalpel or by social coercion from teachers, professors, administrators and left-wing media, it’s an aggressive attempt to transition the young people of our country. They’re doing this psychologically, and now they’re doing it even physically. Something has gone terribly wrong.”
None of this is actually happening, but on the Republican side of the aisle, facts were limited.
Among the witnesses was Chloe Cole, 19, who has been touring the country and right-wing media, talking about the dangers of transitioning. A detransitioner with links to the Proud Boys, Cole describes herself as a “former trans kid.” Cole says she was diagnosed with gender dysphoria at nine and was treated by Kaiser Permanente clinics in the San Francisco Bay Area between the ages of 13 and 17. She began detransitioning at 17.
Cole, who also says she had mental health issues and is on the autism spectrum, was treated with puberty blockers, testosterone and a double mastectomy. Cole says social media led her to transition. Cole has spoken in support of statewide bans in several states including Florida. She says no one should be allowed to consent to gender-affirming care for minors.
Paula Scanlan, a former NCAA swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania, spoke at length about having been traumatized by the presence of Lia Thomas, a trans woman swimmer who has become a national flashpoint for trans women competing in women’s sports, in part due to her height — 6’4″ — which Scanlan noted in her testimony.
Scanlan spoke at length about how she and her teammates were “expected to undress 18 times per week with Lia, formerly Will, a biological male with fully intact genitalia.”
Scanlan said that she and teammates were traumatized by being forced to “be naked with a biological male” when she and others were survivors of sexual assault. She spoke about Thomas in the context of violence against women.
Also testifying were Jennifer Bauwens, Director of Family Studies for the far right anti-LGBTQ+ group Family Research Council and May Mailman, a member of the Federalist Society and senior fellow at the conservative Independent Women’s Law Center.
There were a few people who spoke in favor of gender-affirming care, among them Rep. Scanlon, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), who is running for Senate, and Miriam Reynolds, the mother of a trans child.
Reynolds described herself as a “licensed professional counselor and a fifth-generation Texan descending from a long line of conservative Christians.”
Reynolds said she was “honored to be here today to give my testimony and tell you the story of my incredible child.” She detailed the family’s transition story of her son Cameron, now 18, who told his parents he was trans when he was 11. Reynolds’s story was redemptive in the midst of the stories of “violence against women” and “mutilation” that the GOP presented.
She spoke of the family coming to terms with the transition, finding care for Cameron and explaining the transition to Cameron’s grandparents. She also was clear that transitioning had made Cameron healthier and explained the detailed process their family went through to decide on a treatment plan which has not, to date, included surgery.
Shannon Minter is the legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco and a trans man. Minter testified about “representing trans youth in cases involving discrimination and harassment, schools, the child welfare system and the health care system” of 30 years at NCLR.
Minter said he had also “been involved in federal challenges to state laws that ban medical care for transgender young people and completely banned them from school sports.”
Minter said he was there specifically to argue that “parents should have the freedom to make health care decisions for their trans children.”
“As a transgender person myself, I have benefitted from decades of access to healthcare, legal equality, support, been able to marry, have a family, pursue a career, participate in my local church and community,” Minter said. “It is very disheartening to see the protections that have given me and other transgender people so many opportunities to thrive and to succeed now just being needlessly taken away from young people.”
Scanlon said, “Make no mistake, today’s hearing is not about protecting children’s or parents’ rights. It is a cynical and dangerous political attack on transgender children and their families. It is not driven by science or facts, but by polling and political strategists determined to mobilize conservative voters through fear.”