No, Seriously, They’re Coming For Us Here, Too (And We Can’t Let Them)
Two Prospective Bills in the Oregon Senate Seek to Ban Gender-Affirming Healthcare for Youth and Prisoners
As the legislative war on transgender people continues to rage across the United States, a pair of bills introduced in the Oregon legislature seek to outright ban gender-affirming surgeries and healthcare for the state’s youth and incarcerated populations.
Senate Bills 452 and 897, sponsored by a murderer’s row of state Republicans, are two examples of Oregon legislators dipping their toes into the nationwide Republican attack on the rights and privacy of trans and gender non-conforming youth.
First, let’s look at SB 897, chiefly sponsored by Senator David Brock Smith of Port Orford. His bill, as it’s currently been introduced, reads:
“[Oregon] Department of Corrections may not pay for or provide, directly or indirectly, gender-affirming care to any individual in the custody of a correctional facility in this state.”
Smith’s bill clarifies what he means by gender-affirming care in the bill:
“Gender-affirming care” means a procedure, service, drug, device or product that a physical or behavioral health care provider prescribes to treat an individual for incongruence between the individual’s gender identity and the individual’s sex assignment at birth….”
In short, this bill would make it illegal for the state to provide any sort of gender-affirming care to prisoners while they’re incarcerated–including hormone replacement therapy and gender-affirming surgeries – but could even extend, based on its vague wording, to basic cosmetic procedures like haircuts or hair removal.
Currently, the Oregon Department of Corrections handles all transgender, intersex, and nonbinary prisoners on a case-by-case basis, where each prisoner requesting gender-affirming care is evaluated by a nefarious-sounding group called the Transgender and Intersex Committee (TAIC), which is composed of DOC employees from various disciplines within Oregon’s carceral bureaucracy. But though the TAIC claims to have the best interests of transgender prisoners in mind, their track record is marred by many recent cases of transgender people being denied their essential care in ODOC facilities.
All this to target a tiny fraction of prisoners. According to the most recent figures I could find–which come directly from ODOC’s spokesperson Jennifer Black–there are 77 transgender prisoners held in Oregon’s prisons, out of a total prison population of roughly 24,000 – or, for perspective, 0.3 percent. Obviously, that accounts only for openly transgender and intersex people who have self-identified themselves, and the true number is likely higher, but even then, it’s a minuscule proportion of the total population.
And that’s what makes SB 452 particularly cruel toward transgender prisoners, who are already arguably the most marginalized of all marginalized people. No one would argue that a trans woman forced to spend years in a men’s prison has it good, but this bill would take whatever tiny amount of care and solace they might find while incarcerated and rips it out of their reach.
What’s worse, the bill is co-sponsored by a whopping sixteen other Republicans in the Senate and House. In total, 48 percent of elected Republicans in the Oregon Legislature support this bill enough to put their names on it. The bill’s sponsors include:
- Art Robinson, a climate-change denier who lost to Peter DeFazio in five consecutive congressional elections and has some truly insane ideas on how to home-school children.
- Dennis Linthicum, one of Oregon’s most prominent 2020 election deniers and a proponent of the increasingly absurd “Greater Idaho” movement.
- Kim Thatcher, another 2020 election denier who introduced a bill in 2017 that would’ve required Oregon universities to expel any students convicted on riot charges.
- James Hieb, who spent at least one afternoon fighting alongside Proud Boys in downtown Portland and testified in defense of convicted street brawler and notable fascist Alan Swinney.
- E. Werner Reschke, whose Twitter feed is full of anti-vaxxer conspiracies, including several specific call-outs of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine–though the pharmaceutical company has donated $3,000 over the past few years to Rescke’s campaigns.
It’s always the same sort of ghoulish politicians that try to push these bills to strip transgender people of the very few comforts they can find in these extremely hostile environments.
But they’re not content to stop at transgender prisoners. A second bill, SB 452, would ban all gender-affirming surgeries for anyone under the age of eighteen.
While it’s not as complete a ban as, say, the recently enacted bans on trans healthcare in Utah or the slowly advancing trans healthcare bans in states like Missouri or Oklahoma or even the impending Tennessee law that, in essence, makes presenting as transgender in public a felony, SB 452 is still a sweeping ban on the sort of life-saving and gender-affirming surgeries that make life easier and more fulfilling for trans youth and adults alike.
There are dozens of studies linking these sorts of surgeries and procedures to improved quality of life and mental health for trans youth, which in turn can lead to healthier, more stable lives for trans adults.
This bill, however, is less thoroughly sponsored by Oregon’s Republican minority. Only two senators–Lynn Findley and Bill Hansell–have co-sponsored the bill, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have support among Oregon’s increasingly radical right-wing politicians. If we’ve learned anything from the past few months of state-level legislation, it’s that right-wing politicians are eager to persecute trans people for the perceived crime of merely existing.
I emailed Senators Findley and Hansell to ask them about their support for this bill. For transparency, I’ve included the questions below:
1) Gender-affirming care, including those surgeries your bill would ban, has been shown time and time again to improve quality of life and mental health conditions for queer, trans, nonbinary, and nonconforming kids of all ages. There are government-sponsored, university-based, and private research studies all showing similar outcomes, all pointing to evidence that these procedures are beneficial and life-saving for children and teens.
I presume that you or your respective offices would’ve done research into these health procedures before introducing this bill, and you, as State Senators, are aware of these statistics. If that’s the case, why would you choose to introduce a bill that would almost certainly cause serious harm to children in Oregon?
2) SB 452 seeks to completely ban gender-affirming surgeries for youth except in cases where the minor has a “verifiable disorder of sex development” such as an irregular number of sex chromosomes or external biological characteristics.
The bill, however, is unclear as to what sort of surgeries could be performed on kids with sex disorders, and what the rules would be about assigning a biological sex on a kid with “vague” external biologies.
In this scenario, who gets to assign that kid’s biological sex?
3) Your bill allows for “the treatment of any infection, injury, disease or disorder that has been caused or exacerbated by the performance of a gender transition procedure, whether or not the gender transition procedure was performed in accordance with state and federal law.”
Would this caveat in your bill allow doctors to medically “detransition” those people who had already undergone gender-affirming surgeries?
4) Where do you obtain or perform your research on transgender people and their medical needs?
5) Do you personally know any transgender people?
6) What is your favorite book?
Neither Senator bothered to respond or even acknowledge these questions.
(Perhaps, I might’ve phrased them differently and sent a slightly less-confrontational email to the offices of two state senators, in hopes that I might get a response–even a curt one. But why should a trans woman be the magnanimous one in the face of a legislative assault on the rights of my siblings and I?)
Much like Oregon Rep. Kim Wallan’s attempt to plagiarize Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Senate Bills 452 and 897 are attempts by Oregon Republicans to join in their party’s all-out blitz on the LGBTQIA+ community. They can see that Republicans in states like Utah, North Dakota, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Tennessee are scoring cheap political victories by targeting transgender healthcare and hope to see those successes repeated here in Oregon.
As I noted in my previous article on legislative creeps, it feels unlikely that these bills will make much headway in a legislature dominated by Democrats in a state widely considered a safe haven for transgender people–though it’s foolish to underestimate a Democratic majority’s willingness to make life hell for incarcerated people.
But the important thing here is that, regardless of how far these bills go, there are people in our state, living in nearby communities, who are foot soldiers in the right’s assault on trans people. Lynn Findley lives in Vale, Bill Hansell lives in Athena, Kim Thatcher lives in Keizer, Dennis Linthicum lives in Klamath Falls, Jami Cate lives in Lebanon, Boomer Wright lives in Coos Bay, Shelly Boshart Davis lives in Albany, James Hieb lives in Canby. These are real people in real places voted into real positions of power that they aim to use to persecute us queer and trans folk because of some unfathomable bigotry they hold in their hearts.
It’s happening everywhere. And it’s happening here, too, right under our noses, during open debates on the floor of the Oregon Capitol, where these ghouls and fascists can openly question trans people’s right to exist and live happy lives free from persecution – where they can insert their genocidal vitriol into the public record.
But defending the rights and freedoms of trans people isn’t a matter of voting in elections. The slim Democratic majority in the Oregon legislature is little more than a Maginot Line against a coming Republican blitzkrieg. When the time comes and Oregon’s right-wing extremists decide to get their shit together, they can–and likely will–overwhelm the state’s spineless liberals. And even if they struggle to get their political house in order, their followers–members of rural militias, fascist street gangs, cultish evangelical churches–will be eager to target trans people in the name of God and country. They don’t need laws and regulations to encourage them to take matters into their own hands.
Laws are just the tip of the spear. Right now, they’re just testing the waters, seeing how far they can push the debate, how much attention they can shine on themselves to prove their fascist bonafides.
So what are you doing to help trans people?