Friday, June 14, 2024

OPINION: Weaponizing government against transgender kids and their doctors

by JIM JONES/Guest Opinion
| February 24, 2023 1:00 AM

Idaho’s legislative culture warriors are at it again, weaponizing the government against families with transgender kids and criminalizing their doctors. House Bill 71, which passed the House of Representatives on Valentine’s Day, now goes to the Senate. If it is enacted into law, it might result in a few suicide attempts by stigmatized transgender kids before being blocked as unconstitutional in federal court. The lawyers challenging the legislation will be able, once again, to replenish their bank accounts with taxpayer funds as a result of the Legislature’s bullying of our transgender population.

HB 71 makes it a felony for doctors to provide gender-affirming care to transgender minors, despite the fact that every major medical association approves of such care as safe and effective. Some fringe medical groups differ, but it does not make sense for the Legislature to write the view of a small minority into Idaho law. The responsible course of action would be to follow the position of last year’s Senate GOP caucus, opposing similar legislation. The caucus said the bill “undermines parental rights and allows the government to interfere in parents’ medical decision-making authority for their children.” In other words, keep the heavy hand of government out of doctor-patient relations.

The bill would also prohibit transition-related surgery on minors, although no evidence exists that such surgeries are occurring in Idaho–a solution searching for a problem. Rep. Skaug, the primary bill sponsor, raised the frightening specter of “decisions to cut away healthy bodily organs and to start down the road to chemical castration at age 12.” As an attorney, he should know that hyperbole is no substitute for real facts.

A Pocatello family physician, Dr. Neil Ragan, testified in the committee hearing that his gender-affirming care had saved lives. Because of the social stigma they bear, many transgender kids suffer from severe depression and suicidal ideation. Studies show that minors who receive gender-affirming care are less likely to suffer either. One recent study showed 60% less depression and 73% less suicidality in kids who received care.

The bill sponsors claim they are just looking out for defenseless kids, but in almost every other instance these same legislators claim that parents have the absolute right to make important decisions regarding their children. None of these legislators has lifted a finger to help the children of faith healers get life-saving medical care. If they are indeed so concerned about the well-being of children, they could support House Bill 145, which requires faith healers to provide necessary medical care to their children, just like every other parent in Idaho is required to do. Had such legislation been placed on the statute books in 2020, eight tiny lives might have been saved in Canyon County.

Transgender legislation seems to be one of the top targets of the culture warriors across the country this year. Instead of dealing with real issues, like providing funding to repair crumbling school buildings and build desperately-needed new ones or providing much-needed property tax relief, preening lawmakers latch onto something that is not a societal problem and milk it for political points. There is a cost for such shenanigans.

If HB 71 is approved by the Senate and signed by the Governor, it will likely be found in violation of the United States Constitution by a federal judge. The judge will likely grant substantial attorney fees against the State. That's what happened with an administrative rule and then a statute preventing transgender individuals from getting new birth certificates. The rule case cost taxpayers $75,000 in attorney fees, while the statute case cost them over $320,000.

A transgender sports bill was enacted into law in Idaho in 2020 and put on hold shortly afterwards by a federal court judge on constitutional grounds. The state appealed to the federal circuit court in San Francisco, which has just indicated it will move forward on the case. Odds are the circuit court will find the law unconstitutional, in which event the state could face a massive attorney fee–perhaps well over $1 million. HB 71 could be another bonanza for those private attorneys.

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Jim Jones is a Vietnam combat veteran who served eight years as Idaho Attorney General and 12 years as a justice on the Idaho Supreme Court. He is a regular contributor to The Hill online news. He blogs at