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Utah becomes first state to ban gender-affirming care for trans youth in 2023

Utah Governor Spencer Cox signed a bill Saturday that bans hormone replacement therapy and gender-affirming surgery for transgender youth, making Utah the first state in 2023 to ban such care.

Senate Bill 16 provides new restrictions on trans youth seeking medical care in Utah, specifically banning "hormonal transgender treatment to new patients who were not diagnosed with gender dysphoria" before the bill went into effect, and "sex characteristic surgical procedures on a minor for the purpose of effectuating a sex change."

SB16 also requires the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct "a systematic review of the medical evidence regarding hormonal transgender treatments," and subsequently, to "provide recommendations to the Legislature."

Cox said in a statement that the bill is not "perfect," but ultimately wrote in its defense, "More and more experts, states and countries around the world are pausing these permanent and life-altering treatments for new patients until more and better research can help determine the long-term consequences."

"While we understand our words will be of little comfort to those who disagree with us, we sincerely hope that we can treat our transgender families with more love and respect as we work to better understand the science and consequences behind these procedures," Cox added.

The Utah chapter of the ACLU was quick to condemn the bill on Twitter, writing, "Trans kids are kids — they deserve to grow up without constant political attacks on their lives and health care."

"We will defend that right," the organization added. "We see you. We Support You."

Cox had not publicly signaled support or disapproval for the bill until signing it this weekend. The governor previously made headlines in 2022 for vetoing a bill that would bar trans athletes from playing girls' sports, citing suicide statistics.

"Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few," wrote Cox in a letter to the state's legislative leaders at the time.

"I don't understand what they are going through or why they feel the way they do. But I want them to live," he added.

The legislature ultimately overrode Cox's veto. 

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, "Early gender affirming care is crucial to overall health and well-being" for trans and nonbinary youth, "as it allows the child or adolescent to focus on social transitions and can increase their confidence while navigating the healthcare system."

"Our bodies are not our destiny."
Thousands of New Yorkers took to the streets of Manhattan to participate on the Reclaim Pride Coalition's (RPC) fourth annual Queer Liberation March, where no police, politicians or corporations were allowed to participate. This year, the march highlighted Trans and BIPOC Lives, Reproductive Justice, and Bodily Autonomy. Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

But the rights of trans Americans have continued to be up for debate in America, with more and more states introducing legislation that restricts or bans access to healthcare, prohibits trans people from participating in sports concurrent with their gender identities and more.

Experts say that access to gender-affirming care can be a life-or-death issue for trans youth. A study published in the journal Pediatrics found that nearly 51% of female-to-male respondents had attempted suicide, while the average youth suicide rate in the U.S. is 9%, according to a 2022 study by UCLA.

Studies have shown that access to medical transition can be a major step in improving quality of life for trans people. An analysis of 56 peer-reviewed works by the What We Know Project found that in 93% of the studies, gender transition improved the overall well-being of trans respondents. 

Even so, more than two dozen states tried to enact measures that would either heavily restrict or completely ban access to gender-affirming care for trans youth in 2022, according to The Hill.

Additionally, 20 bills that targeted trans medical care were pre-filed in at least nine states for 2023, including Utah.

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