Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) on Thursday made his state the latest to ban gender-affirming health care ― and the first to criminalize certain drag shows ― after the state’s Republican-controlled legislature sent the bills to his desk.
The health care legislation forbids minors from taking puberty blockers or hormone therapies, and from having surgeries done for the purpose of “enabling a minor to identify with, or live as, a purported identity inconsistent with the minor’s sex.”
Doctors who provide such care in Tennessee can be sued by a parent who did not consent to their minor child’s treatment. Any such currently ongoing treatments must cease by March 31, 2024.
Other Republican-led states to pass similar bans include Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Utah. More bans are pending elsewhere in various state legislatures.
Tennessee’s law states that legislators determined gender-affirming care to be “harmful” to minors, and that it is “not consistent with professional medical standards” ― which is false. In fact, the legislation runs contrary to the advice given by many professional medical associations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association, which say the treatments at issue are safe and highly beneficial.
Lee also cracked down on drag performances by banning “male or female impersonators” from putting on shows in public places or anywhere a minor could see them. A first-time offender can be charged with a misdemeanor, but subsequent offenses can be charged as felonies and carry years of jail time.
The legislation, which takes effect July 1, is the first bill of its kind to become law amid the ongoing right-wing assault on expressions of gender and sexuality that conservatives claim are aberrant.
While drag shows are generally performed for adult audiences, in recent years librarians and other organizers have seen strong community support for drag storytime events where a queen reads children’s books aloud to encourage a love for reading.
Lee signed the legislation despite having been confronted with a photograph from his own 1977 high school yearbook that appears to show him as a teenager dressed in drag. The governor called the hypocrisy accusation “ridiculous” at a Monday press conference.
The Tennessee Republicans who wrote the bill to ban gender-affirming care claimed that the treatments result in “sometimes fatal psychological consequences.”
They failed to acknowledge, however, the consequences of denying gender-affirming care to minors. LGBTQ youth are known to experience higher-than-average rates of depression and suicidal thoughts, and providing them ways to better express their gender identity has been linked with improved mental health.
“It has nothing to do with protecting children from unnecessary medical procedures,” Tennessee state Rep. Bo Mitchell (D) said of the law, according to The Tennessean. ”[Some children] can get their breast enhancements, their nose jobs, that’s OK, but these children can’t have any medical procedures?”