After five hours debating proposed restrictions on gender-affirming care, members of a key state medical committee interrupted a controversial public gathering in Orlando – leaving so many in the crowd they chanted, “Your blood is on your hands!”
A joint rules panel of the Florida Board of Medicine and the Florida Board of Osteopathic Medicine met Friday at the Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport for a workshop on possible policies to limit gender-affirming care in Florida.
Although the panel did not finalize its proposed rules, members signaled support for banning puberty blockers, cross-hormone treatment and gender-affirming surgery as methods of treating gender dysphoria in patients under the age of 18.
Unable to agree on whether gender-affirming treatments, which are part of clinical trials and research, should be exempted from the ban, members recommended further discussion. The proposed rule will be reviewed again in the coming weeks, when the panel will also decide when the measure will go into effect.
The meeting ended an hour ahead of schedule, leading to a heated exchange between board members, supporters and critics of the recommendation.
“We were shut down,” said Abigael Hart, a transgender woman from Tampa. “They got a portion … they were allowed to say what they wanted to say and the residents of the state were erased.”
The panel stopped hearing testimonies, although several people requested a hearing, as the majority of the testimonies presented before the abrupt end of the meeting supported the ban on gender-affirming care.
Friday’s meeting came at the request of Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo. Earlier this year, the Florida Department of Health issued a state-wide gender-affirming care policy discouraging puberty blockers, hormone treatments and surgery for minors. The policy went against the recommendations of the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Among the doctors who opposed the proposal was Kristin Dayton, a board-certified pediatrician and pediatric endocrinologist.
Dayton said the decision to prescribe puberty blockers will only be applied after multiple assessments and that transgender adults who access treatment during adolescence face fewer mental health problems.
“There is no one-size-fits-all model,” Dayton said, noting that gender-affirming nursing is supported by several medical associations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Physicians, and the American Medical Association.
She called on the board to put treatment decisions in the hands of doctors and patients, as treatments are very individual.
In response to Dayton’s argument, the board emphasized the need for a multidisciplinary approach involving a combined effort of pediatricians, endocrinologists, and psychology experts.
Michael Laidlaw, a doctor specializing in endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism, spoke out in favor of banning these treatments.
“Gender-affirming therapy proposed by WPATH and performed with WPATH offers very powerful hormones and surgery on what basis?” said Laidlaw, using an acronym for the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.
He compared the need to assess a patient’s diabetes before prescribing insulin to the need to examine the factors causing gender dysphoria before providing gender-specific care.
“Where can we find evidence that these children will not give up into adulthood?” he asked, referring to the controversial concept that many transgender teenagers are aging out of their gender identity rather than continuing treatments into adulthood.
After hearing the arguments of other medical specialists, the committee opened the floor to public comment, which was dominated by people who identified as former transgender people and parents of transgender youth.
Bob and Mary Flynn spoke about their experiences as parents of a 12-year-old transgender child who revealed her identity to them at the age of 4.
“For the last 8 years we have been on this wonderful journey helping our child who had suicidal thoughts at the age of 5 and is now a healthy, happy 12 year old thriving in Florida,” said Mary Flynn. “But we’re afraid we’ll have to move because she started gender-affirming care at the age of 12.”
Mary Flynn said her daughter was using a puberty blocker and urged the board to consider the potentially life-threatening consequences of refusing treatment for transgender youth.
“What you’re talking about is waiting until the age of 18, well they won’t be here, [they] could commit suicide,” she said.
January Littlejohn, a licensed mental health professional, spoke about her daughter’s experiences with gender identity and how they’ve dealt with it.
She said in 2020 her daughter expressed discomfort about her sex and gender, which Littlejohn said her daughter never expressed before some of her classmates came out as transgender.
Littlejohn said setting boundaries for her daughter, like allowing her to change her hair and clothes but refusing any physical intervention, helped the child’s mental health and urge to change their appearance.
“We also gave her face-to-face time, personal activities away from trans influencers, limited her internet use, and declined to confirm her newly chosen names or pronouns,” Littlejohn said.
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Littlejohn said she is concerned that suicide is a consequence of a child not receiving treatment rather than a risk factor in transgender youth.
A 2019 study by UCLA’s Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation & Gender found that suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts are more common among transgender youth. The report also found that those who were rejected by family were more likely to report attempting suicide.
The Florida Coalition for Transgender Liberation organized a demonstration after the meeting to protest the board’s stance. The group was also joined by the Florida National Organization for Women, the Florida People’s Advocacy Center, and the Women’s March Florida.
The board wound up the session and left the room as Orlando State Representatives Anna Eskamani and Carlos Guillermo Smith arrived to speak.
“We are incredibly upset and frustrated that the Medical Association is pursuing a political agenda to target LGBTQ+ people and children,” Eskamani said. “This is a no-harm institution, and yet they have been mandated by Governor DeSantis to essentially wipe out transgender children.”
Eskamani criticized the panel for allowing proponents of the gender-affirming ban to speak while leaving opponents’ testimonies incomplete.
“It’s another arming of a government agency with real consequences because we’re affecting the lives of children,” Eskamani said.