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California governor signs bill offering legal refuge to transgender youths

NBC News 9/30/2022 Jo Yurcaba
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California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill Thursday that aims to legally protect transgender youths and their parents if they flee conservative states that have restricted access to gender-affirming care. 

The bill seeks to “offer refuge” to trans minors and their families “if they’re being criminalized in their home states,” state Sen. Scott Wiener, who introduced the bill, said on Twitter after Newsom signed it.

Wiener said states like Texas and Alabama “are seeking to tear these families apart,” referring to efforts in both states to bar parents from providing their trans children with medical care like puberty blockers and hormone therapy.

In February, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called on the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services to “conduct a prompt and thorough investigation” of any reported instances of minors undergoing “elective procedures for gender transitioning.” He also encouraged anyone who works with children in the state and regular citizens to report parents providing such care. 

Following the directive, the department confirmed that it opened at least nine investigations, but state courts have since blocked most of those investigations.

In Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey signed a bill that makes it a felony for medical professionals to provide gender-affirming medical care to people under 19. 

“We should especially protect our children from these radical, life-altering drugs and surgeries when they are at such a vulnerable stage in life,” Ivey said in a statement at the time.

A judge partially blocked enforcement of that law in May.

Tennessee also passed a law prohibiting gender-affirming care for prepubertal youth, though advocates said at the time that there were no doctors in the state who provided transition care to children prior to puberty.

As a result of the policies, some families of transgender minors have decided to leave their home states so they can continue to access gender-affirming care, which is supported by accredited medical groups — including the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and American Psychological Association.

The bill Newsom signed is intended to protect families and children like those from prosecution in their home states if they travel to California for gender-affirming care or if they move to California after already receiving transition-related care elsewhere. 

“We believe that no one should be prosecuted or persecuted for getting the care they need — including gender-affirming care,” Newsom said in a statement after signing the measure. “With the signing of this bill, California will ensure that these kids and their families can seek and obtain the medical and mental health care that they need.”

The legislation includes a variety of provisions that are meant to help protect families and trans kids. It prohibits California health care providers from releasing medical information in relation to other states’ laws prohibiting gender-affirming care for minors. It also prohibits the enforcement of a court order “based on another state’s law authorizing a child to be removed from their parent or guardian based on that parent or guardian allowing their child to receive gender-affirming health care or gender-affirming mental health care.”

The bill also authorizes a California court to take temporary emergency jurisdiction when a child hasn’t been able to receive gender-affirming health care elsewhere, which some on social media interpreted to mean that California courts will be able to take custody of children if they flee their home states because their parents don’t want to provide them with gender-affirming care. 

But that isn’t accurate, according to Asaf Orr, a senior staff attorney and Transgender Youth Project director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Orr said that portion of the bill is related to a court’s jurisdiction in custody matters. 

“State courts around the country have the authority to consider whether to retain jurisdiction over a custody matter involving a child who recently came into the state,” Orr told Reuters. “This typically occurs in instances of domestic violence or other crisis situations. This law simply clarifies that courts should retain jurisdiction in situations where a parent brings their child to California so that they can obtain medical treatment for gender dysphoria.” Gender dysphoria is a medical condition that involves a conflict between an individual’s sex assigned at birth and their gender identity. 

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This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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