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Florida is one of a wave of states to ban gender-affirming care for transgender youth

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

We are seeing a growing number of Republican-led states move to ban gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth under the age of 18. That care includes puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones. Last Monday, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem signed such a bill into law. A few weeks ago, Utah Governor Spencer Cox did the same. And with the urging of Governor Ron DeSantis, Florida took a different tact. It prohibited gender-affirming care for trans youth through a vote of its medical boards. Well, NPR's Melissa Block has been tracking this trend and spent time this month reporting on it in Florida. She's here now. Hey, Melissa.

MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Hey. So give me some - the bigger landscape to understand this. Because I just mentioned several states, but you're watching more.

BLOCK: Yeah. It can be pretty hard to keep up because these bills are popping up all over. I spoke with a lawyer in Florida who fights these bills, and she compared it to a game of whack-a-mole. This year alone, we've seen about 83 bills related to gender-affirming care introduced all around the country. I'm keeping an eye especially on bills in Mississippi, Tennessee, Missouri, Oklahoma, Montana. The first two states that banned gender-affirming care were Alabama and Arkansas. Those bans have been blocked, at least temporarily, by federal courts. One more thing I should mention here - when Florida's medical boards voted to ban care, they called it risky and experimental. That does go against the consensus from dozens of major U.S. medical groups. They say these treatments are time-tested, effective and potentially life-saving.

KELLY: And generally speaking, how similar are all these state bills? Are they roughly the same in what they're trying to achieve?

BLOCK: Yeah. And a lot of the language is virtually identical, which probably goes back to the fact that some of these bills have been written with help from conservative Christian groups. South Dakota's law has one interesting point. It not only bans gender-affirming care, it also requires doctors to medically withdraw hormonal treatment from minors - existing patients, these would be - to taper them off those medications by the end of this year. Doctors I've spoken with say that that can be highly traumatic. It would force trans youth to revert back into a gender that may cause them great distress. And all of this raises all kinds of questions, Mary Louise. What do families with trans kids do? Do they cross state lines to get treatment? Can they even afford to do that? Do they go on the black market for hormones? There are so many unknowns with all of this.

KELLY: So many. Tell me about your reporting in Florida. I know you talked with trans kids. You talked to their parents, their doctors. What were they telling you?

BLOCK: Yeah. I spoke with a lot of families with trans kids. And one thing that virtually all of them mentioned was the idea of parental rights. As you know, this is something Governor DeSantis campaigns heavily on - parental rights in education, for example. Well, these parents say, hey, what about my parental rights? Why isn't this a private decision made with me, as a parent, and my child and their doctor, free of government interference? I want you to listen to part of a conversation I had along these lines with a woman named Virginia Hamner in Gainesville. She has a 13-year-old trans daughter named Liz.

VIRIGINIA HAMNER: It's a gut punch. It's so frustrating to hear the rhetoric of parental rights be used to say kids shouldn't have access to treatment because we need to let them be kids when it's like, you're right. And guess what? That's all I want for my kid.

BLOCK: And, Mary Louise, a number of families that I talked with say they are seriously considering moving out of Florida, that they want to be in states that are more trans-friendly. That was one of the things I talked about with the mom of a 12-year-old trans boy who lives in Tallahassee. She asked us to use only her first name, which is Sandi, because she's worried about retaliation.

SANDI: The fact that you have to consider rehoming your family to have access to health care in the United States in 2023 is ridiculous. I just want my kid to be happy and healthy. And I just don't think that's a lot to ask.

BLOCK: And she told me, Mary Louise, my entire support system is here. Why should I have to uproot that?

KELLY: NPR's Melissa Block. Thank you.

BLOCK: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.