By Deb Bucknam
Ann D. Watson’s recent commentary in VTDigger on the LGBTQ+ bill (H.659) dismisses opposition as nothing more than Republican politicians engaging in “pure unadulterated hatred” of the LBGTQ+ community. She also makes the unsubstantiated claim that a recent murder of a transgender Vermonter was the result of some Republican politicians publicly opposing the bill.
The issues Ms. Watson is referring to deserve serious discussion. So let’s look at the facts.
The purpose of H.659 is outlined at the beginning of the bill. It states: “This bill proposes to allow a minor who identifies as transgender to consent to receiving hormone blockers and other nonsurgical, gender-affirming care and treatment without requiring parental consent.”
The bill does not define minor. However, the term “minor” is defined throughout Vermont statutes as a child under the age of 18. In other words, the bill proposes that minor children of any age —even toddlers — could, under the provisions in this bill, receive life altering and often irreversible medical treatment without parental consent.
Gender affirming medical treatments are not without risk, as they involve the administration of estrogen to a biological male or testosterone to a biological female. According to Johns Hopkins Hospital, which provides non-surgical gender affirming therapy services, hormone replacement therapy to “minimize feminine characteristics and promote masculinization … results in changes in voice and development of facial and body hair, sweat and odor patterns, increase in muscle mass, a redistribution of facial and body subcutaneous fat, frontal and temporal hairline recession and, possibly, male pattern baldness. Additional sexual effects may include an increase in libido, clitoral growth, vaginal dryness and cessation of menses.” Feminizing hormone therapy results in “breast development, reduction of muscle mass, reduction of body hair, reduction in erectile function, changes in libido, reduced or absent sperm count and ejaculatory fluid, and reduced testicular size.”
These changes are profound for young persons who are legally unable to drive, live on their own, work, or enter into a contract. Minors cannot make decisions about other types of medical treatment, school attendance, or even participation in sports activities. They need their parents’ consent. Yet there is no provision in the bill for legal oversight, second opinions, or any other guardrails to ensure these procedures are in the child’s best interest. “Best interest of the child” is the guiding principle in Vermont’s guardianship, family and child protection statutes. This bill ignores that principle.
H.659 has other major flaws. There is no provision in the bill for notifying parents of the treatments, so that parents do not even have the opportunity to weigh in on these decisions. It does not define “identifies as transgender,” or how that determination is made. The vagueness of this definition almost certainly will lead to serious consequences for children who have not as yet gained fully developed judgment or insight.
Surely such momentous decisions made by children need the advice and consent of the parents who love them. Despite Ms. Watson’s claims, Vermont GOP chair Paul Dame did not engage in “pure unadulterated hatred.” He merely stated that parents need to be involved in these decisions.
H.659 is based the assumption that parents do not have their children’s best interest at heart, or are too stupid or ignorant to know what is right for their kids. The bill compounds that error by assuming that any other adults — legal strangers — can encourage children to make these life changing decisions without any protective measures to ensure the children’s best interest.
H.659 takes disdain for parents to a new level. It proposes to allow children of any age to make a decision that could change their health and their lives forever. And it provides no oversight for adults who encourage or support such decisions without parental knowledge or consent. Every Vermonter, no matter what political persuasion, sexual orientation or gender identity, should oppose this bill.
Deborah Bucknam is a Walden, Vermont lawyer practicing family, civil rights, personal injury and employment law for the past 43 years. She and her husband, Charles, have been married 56 years, and they have two daughters and 13 grandchildren. They have lived in Walden, Vermont since 1972.