House Bill 1125, known as the Regulate Experimental Adolescent Procedures (REAP) Act, passed the Mississippi State Senate on Tuesday, Feb. 21. Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves is expected to sign the bill into law imminently.
If enacted, HB 1125 would prohibit youth under 18 from receiving gender transition surgeries and prescriptions for puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones. The law would also prohibit the “use of public funds or tax deduction for gender transition procedures.” Physicians who violate these standards would lose their medical license and can face civil lawsuits for up to 30 years after the day the standards were violated.
If Reeves signs the bill, it will go into effect immediately.
The legislation has made headlines both in-state and nationwide, compelling those who oppose the legislation to demonstrate against it. On Feb. 11, approximately 50 residents of the Oxford-Lafayette community gathered in front of City Hall to rally against the bill.
The rally was organized by the University of Mississippi Democrats and Oxford High School’s Gay Straight Alliance. The rally featured speakers from both organizations, local drag queen Fendi LaFemme, and Jose Reyes, who represented Justice for Jay Lee.
Thomas McGaughy, inclusion, equity, diversity, accessibility coordinator for the UM Democrats, described being transgender in Mississippi as “longing for acceptance, longing for normality, longing for healthcare, longing for resources and even just longing for a safe space.”
McGaughy’s speech at the rally highlighted the fear that many trans individuals feel throughout their daily lives. He said the bill is a legal attempt to “kill off the youth” that don’t fit into a stereotypical conservative ideal.
“The only common treatment for transgender minors are hormone blockers, which delay the onset of puberty in children with clinical gender dysphoria, allowing them to choose if they want to seek transitionary care as an adult,” Eli Nordstrom, president of Oxford High School’s Gay Straight Alliance said.
Following the news that the bill had passed in the House, Sybastian Smith, organizing director at the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a Feb. 11 statement to the Campaign for Southern Equality that “governmental overreach has a tangible and lasting effect on many marginalized communities. People seek medical care from doctors, not politicians.”
Though speakers at the Feb. 11 rally stated that the effects of hormone blockers are completely reversible, the medical consensus is varied, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“Some experts believe that genital underdevelopment may limit some potential reconstructive options. Research on long-term risks particularly in terms of bone metabolism and fertility, is currently limited and provides varied results,” the AAP says in its policy statement.
The AAP also stresses the importance of social and legal affirmation as well as providing a safe environment for children to question their gender identity before pursuing other medical options.
Ethan Robertson, president of UM Democrats, said in his rally speech that HB 1125 denies transgender youth the freedom to be themselves and is “subjecting further restrictions to bodily autonomy in Mississippi.”
Reyes supported Robertson’s statements, saying the bill is being strategically passed to limit individuality and oppress the queer community.
“We deserve to feel accepted and embrace our queerness in our state that proudly deems itself to be the hospitality state,” Reyes said.
The final speaker at the rally was Rosa Sanchez, a trans student attending Oxford High School and a member of GSA.
“Right now, as we speak, I have one more refill on my testosterone blockers, and soon enough I will not have any more,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez emphasized the importance of community support and acceptance of trans youth. Though she counts herself lucky to have a supportive family, Sanchez described the roadblocks HB 1125 would place on her healthcare, as she would have to pursue care out of state should the bill become law.
Data collected and published by The Trevor Project from a survey of nearly 34,000 LGBTQ+ youth in the United States estimates that approximately 53% of LGBTQ+ youth in Mississippi seriously considered suicide and approximately 20% attempted suicide in 2022.
“Evidence shows that transgender or nonbinary youth who experience discrimination have higher rates of depressive mood, seriously considering suicide, a suicide attempt and multiple suicide attempts,” American Medical Association President Jack Resneck Jr. said in a statement.
A peer-reviewed study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2020 was the first study of its kind to examine the association between access to pubertal suppression and measures of suicidality.
Data from the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality, found that while more lengthy studies were needed, “access to this treatment was associated with lower odds of lifetime suicidal ideation.”
After hearing about the bill, Sanchez said something in her “just snapped.”
“It just made me angry knowing that something that is necessary to me to make me feel like a human being is being taken away from me,” Sanchez said.
When asked what they would say to those who might not understand why people felt the need to rally, Oxford resident Al Favilla said, “It’s about making sure that as socially supportive as we are to everyone that we are materially supportive and that people are able to access the care and the changes they need to truly be themselves here.”
McGaughy repeatedly asked why such a bill exists in his speech. One of the forces behind HB 1125 is Mississippi Advocacy Group, led by president and CEO Lesley Davis, an attorney and mother of three.
“This bill came out of an organic concern across our state from educators, physicians, parents, lawmakers, those severely harmed by such treatment and many others,” Davis said in an interview with The Daily Mississippian.
She continued, “I didn’t have the capacity at age 16 to consent to a tanning bed, much less to my taking big pharma drugs that could permanently sterilize me or make me anorgasmic for the rest of my life.”
The concerns expressed by Mississippi Advocacy Group and lawmakers sponsoring HB 1125 echo recent re-evaluations of healthcare for gender dysphoria in several European countries, including Sweden, Finland and England. While these countries have emphasized the need for further research, none have reversed their policies to the point of banning access to puberty blockers and hormone treatments.
“Absolutely, we (Mississippi Advocacy Group) believe that people experience gender dysphoria. We understand this can be excruciatingly painful and that those who suffer from it and their parents will do essentially anything to ease this pain. It is our deep compassion for these individuals that motivates us to act.”
Davis also argued that the studies performed lacked an exploration of alternate methods.
“None of these studies have a comparison arm of children randomized to compassionate counseling/therapy that encourages ‘waitful watching’…. that failure is entirely driven by ideology, not scientific inquiry,” she said.
“It is even more disturbing that the trans-activists then ignore the Swedish longitudinal study that showed that transgender patients who carried through with both medical and surgical transition had a suicide rate 19 times higher than their peers,” Davis said.
The Swedish study concluded that “even though surgery and hormonal therapy alleviates gender dysphoria, it is apparently not sufficient to remedy the high rates of morbidity and mortality found among transsexual persons. Improved care for the transsexual group after the sex reassignment should therefore be considered.”
In response to comments saying those who support HB 1125 are transphobic, Davis said, “Instead of name calling, I would invite folks to honestly look at what is happening to these children. These treatments are sterilizing, chemically castrating and are sexually destructive to our young people … children in Mississippi struggling to identify with their biological sex need compassionate and empathic mental healthcare services, not the irreversible and harmful sequelae of puberty blockers, hormone treatment or gender reassignment surgery.”
Davis said that conversations with people opposing the bill has strengthened her compassion for those who struggle with gender dysphoria; yet she has also “listened intently to those who suffer today from the harm caused by these decisions to pursue medical and/or surgical transition made too early in life.”
Those like Sanchez who rallied in Oxford on Feb. 11 fear that lawmakers in Jackson want to erase their existence from the state they call home. Advocates like Davis fear that treatments are being prescribed for children that are not backed by adequate research.
Pending Reeve’s signature, HB 1125 will realize the hopes of some and the fears of others.