On Wednesday morning, the Ohio Public Health Policy Committee held its first hearing for the Ohio Saving Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act, which would restrict physicians from giving gender-affirming care or transition services to minors in Ohio.
Originally introduced to the Ohio House of Representatives on Feb. 27, the SAFE Act intends to restrict gender-affirming care for minors. Sections of the bill explicitly prevent any physician from performing gender reassignment surgery on a minor or prescribing hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to a minor. The bill also requires physicians to first screen patients requesting gender-affirming care for a history of trauma or other mental health conditions, and to report all findings to the Ohio Department of Health for data collection. The SAFE Act also restricts physicians’ abilities to recommend adolescents for out-of-state care, intending to prevent access to HRT or gender-affirming surgery outside of Ohio.
Ohio State Representative Gary Click has been the primary sponsor for this bill, though it is co-sponsored by 39 other House members. According to Click, the SAFE Act intends to preserve adolescents’ rights to pursue gender-affirming care in adulthood, when they are able to best give or receive informed consent, and prevents harmful or permanent medical procedures.
The bill follows a recent trend in United States legislation preventing or restricting adolescents from accessing gender-affirming care. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) cites it as one of Ohio’s five current bills that target LGBTQ+ rights, and one of 467 anti-LGBTQ+ bills in process across the country.
The SAFE Act has received strong backlash from organizations in Ohio dedicated to LGBTQ+ rights and healthcare advocacy, such as Equitas Health, where former Associate Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Kenyon College Dorian Rhea Debussy currently works as director of external affairs. Debussy testified against another Ohio anti-LGBTQ+ bill — House Bill 151, sections of which would ban transgender or gender nonconforming youth from school athletics — in December of 2022.
Section 2 of the bill explains the reasoning for this legislation, although scientific backing for the bill’s claims has been questioned. The bill states that gender transition services increase physical and mental risks for adolescents. It further claims that scientific studies have demonstrated high rates of suicidal ideation and poor mental health following gender-affirming surgeries, and that a majority of transgender or gender nonconforming children later identify with their biological sex in adulthood. However, the bill does not cite specific studies.
LGBTQ+ organizations that oppose the bill, like Kaleidoscope Youth Center, have highlighted research from accredited associations — like the American Academy of Pediatricians and the American Psychological Association — that opposes claims made in the SAFE Act and demonstrates that gender-affirming care is the best practice for LGBTQ+ youth. Cleveland Clinic, a non-profit medical center, cited a study that found that the need for mental health treatment declined 8% each year following gender-affirming services. The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ+ youth, cites similar studies showing that gender-affirming care reduces suicidal ideation and distress in transgender and gender nonconforming individuals.
Unity House, a student-managed space at Kenyon that provides LGBTQ+ programming and support, has advocated against the SAFE Act. The house managers sent an all-student email on Tuesday morning with a petition against the bill and encouraged students to contact the Ohio Public Health Policy Committee to ask committee members to oppose the bill.
Following the committee hearing, the bill may be amended, defeated or advanced to the Ohio House of Representatives, which would then vote on the bill. The full SAFE Act and its progress through the Ohio House of Representatives can be found online on the Ohio Legislature website.
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