A flag is held up at a rally for LGBTQ rights at Washington Square Park in New York City. Yana Paskova / Getty
Originally published in the Maine Beacon on May 16, 2023
The state’s medical community is uniting behind a package of bills intended to improve the lives of transgender residents that are currently making their way through the Maine Legislature.
In a public hearing late last week, representatives from the Maine Medical Association, the Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Maine Psychological Association endorsed two bills designed to protect gender-affirming care for young people.
One bill, LD 535 sponsored by Rep. Erin Sheehan (D-Biddeford), would allow certain young people to receive gender-affirming hormone therapy without parental consent. The other measure, LD 1735 introduced by Rep. Laurie Osher (D-Orono), would protect Maine health care providers who provide gender-affirming health care to young people from out of state.
“A vast majority of our physician members do not view gender-affirming care as a threat,” said Dan Morin, the Maine Medical Association’s director of communications and government affairs, in the hearing on Friday before the Judiciary Committee.
“Much of the political rhetoric surrounding the issue misrepresents who is receiving such care and what treatments kids typically undergo,” he continued. “The stigma and discrimination trans people face often contribute to higher rates of stress and mental health problems compared to cisgender people, several studies have found.”
Reflecting a national culture war against trans people pushed by Republicans and American conservatives, the bills drew hours of vocal opposition as well as impassioned support from trans and nonbinary young people and their families at the hearing. Beforehand, the right-wing Maine Parents’ Rights in Education Maine led a small rally at the State House and opponents denounced the legislation as “ungodly” and part of a plot to “kidnap” young people from other states and force them to undergo gender reassignment surgery here.
The testimony of medical professionals stood in stark contrast to the conspiracies spun by some of the bills’ opponents.
“Late adolescence is a pivotal time in the lives of all teens,” said Joe Anderson, the advocacy co-chair for the Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “For those suffering from gender dysphoria, it can be either liberating or suffocating. For those who have access to gender affirming care, they can look forward to finishing high school and moving forward to their next stage of life, be it higher education or the workforce, presenting themselves to the world in a manner that they feel matches who they are inside.”
While support of Maine’s largest medical groups far outweighed the few medical professionals who spoke out in opposition, one local media report only quoted opponent Laura Haynes of the International Federation for Therapeutic and Counseling Choice, potentially giving viewers the false impression that the medical community is more divided than it is on gender-affirming care.
The bills were also supported by the Maine chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, the youth chapter of the League of Women Voters of Maine, and Mabel Wadsworth Center, a Bangor-based reproductive health clinic, among other groups.
The bills are just part of a slate of legislation backed by members of Maine’s trans community this session. As Beacon previously reported, groups like MaineTransNet, EqualityMaine and OUT Maine are supporting, among other proposals, a bill that would foster greater visibility of LGBTQ health issues by requiring health centers to collect data on gender identity and sexual orientation as well as a measure that would ensuring gender-affirming care currently covered by MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program, cannot be rolled back by a future conservative governor hostile to trans rights.
Trans rights advocates say the slate represents a positive political agenda in the face of aggressive right-wing attacks. The American Civil Liberties Union is currently tracking nearly 470 anti-LGBTQ bills in 16 states. Among them, Texas lawmakers are close to passing a bill that would ban puberty blockers and hormone therapy for transgender young people.
And while such right-wing legislative campaigns currently have little chance of passing in Maine, where Democrats hold majorities in the Maine House and Senate as well as the Blaine House, similar anti-LGBTQ legislation has surfaced here.
Republican Rep. Katrina Smith of Palermo has introduced legislation that would require parental approval for public school employees to use a name or pronoun other than a student’s given name. In a public hearing on Monday, the Maine Principals’ Association, among other groups, spoke in opposition to the bill, saying many young people live in households where they do feel safe enough to express their gender identity.
And Rep. Jeffrey Adams (R-Lebanon) has submitted legislation to ban transgender women and girls from participating in school sports. Adams, who sent a message to the legislature’s Judiciary Committee through Rep. Rachel Henderson (R-Rumford) on Monday, said he has decided to withdraw his legislation while the constitutionality of such bans are being challenged in court.
Some supporters expressed optimism for the overwhelming community support the trans rights bills have received so far this session, predicting the Republican efforts will ultimately backfire for the party.
“While anti-trans hysteria has infected the Republican Party, it’s not really good politics and I would argue hasn’t helped them politically,” Maine AFL-CIO communications director and former lawmaker Andy O’Brien wrote in a Facebook post. “It’s actually caused them to lose some seats in multiple elections, but they keep hammering on it because it energizes their minority fundamentalist Christian base.”
“But I do think this movement is ultimately doomed,” he continued. “They know they are losing the war, which is why they are becoming more and more strident and unhinged. Young people are finally feeling safe enough to be themselves and it terrifies them.”
Dan Neumann studied journalism at Colorado State University before beginning his career as a community newspaper reporter in Denver. He reported on the Global North’s interventions in Africa, including documentaries on climate change, international asylum policy and U.S. militarization on the continent before returning to his home state of Illinois to teach community journalism on Chicago’s West Side. He now lives in Portland. Dan can be reached at email@example.com.