LGBT Rainbow Flag 

© 2008 Ludovic Berton (Wikimedia Commons)

Protecting children’s health is critical, and that means allowing doctors and their patients to decide what care is needed to keep a child physically and mentally healthy.

Yet on Wednesday, lawmakers in the US state of South Dakota will consider a bill that would make it a felony for healthcare providers to give gender-affirming care to minors. If passed, medical professionals who provide transgender children with puberty blockers, hormones, or other transition-related care would face up to 10 years in prison.

In a cruel twist, the bill makes an exception for doctors and parents to make surgical interventions – whether or not they are necessary – on intersex children, a practice that seriously jeopardizes health and rights. If enacted, the bill would perversely give doctors a free pass to perform medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex infants too young to participate in the decision, but would make it a criminal offense for a doctor to provide medically recommended treatment to an informed transgender 17-year-old seeking care.

This is the sixth year in a row lawmakers in South Dakota have targeted transgender kids, following failed efforts to restrict them from accessing bathrooms and locker rooms, playing sports, and learning about gender identity in schools.

But this year, other states are pursuing a similar path. Lawmakers in Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, and Texas are considering similar bills this session to prevent trans youth from accessing gender-affirming care.

Such bills are a threat to the health and rights of transgender children. Research shows that affirming health care is critically important for the mental health of transgender kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics and other professional groups have therefore recommended a gender-affirming approach, which may include delaying puberty so that young people can make their own decisions about surgical interventions when they turn 18.

Unfortunately, these proposed laws are the tip of the iceberg for attacks on LGBT youth. Across the US, lawmakers are moving ahead with bills to repeal nondiscrimination protections, legalize conversion therapy, exclude transgender kids from athletics, and bar transgender kids from bathrooms and locker rooms.

These bills not only interfere in doctor-patient and parent-child relationships, but flatly ignore transgender and intersex children’s rights to health and equal protection of the law. Lawmakers who believe in equality should roundly reject these bills and strengthen efforts to protect children from discrimination.