D. just finished the 7th grade. She has many friends and says she wants to spend as much time with them as possible this summer, between volleyball, soccer and trips with her family. As D. counts down the days until summer, she’s also thinking about another upcoming date, July 1st.
Then Georgia will begin banning transgender children like D. from starting hormone replacement therapy. This spring, Republican lawmakers voted to limit treatment and also ban gender-affirming surgery on minors.
With SB 140 set to take effect in just a few weeks, youth, parents and doctors are grappling with how the new rules will affect their lives.
D. says she’s felt more like a girl since she was a child, although that wasn’t on her birth certificate. For security reasons we do not identify them. As D. grew older, she began researching and learning about medical treatments that could help strengthen her gender identity.
“It was a little bit eye-opening, like I was like, ‘Oh, this is an option, and I really think it’s for me,'” says D. while sitting at a picnic table with her mom, Amy sits in a green park in the neighborhood.
“I thought, ‘Instead of being a father, I could be a mother.’ And that really made me happy.”
“You know your child. And when you see them looking in the mirror and telling you what they see and who they want to be and it’s blocked, you feel powerless.”
Amy, mother of Georgia transgender child D., on the enactment law restricting gender-based child care.
School had been tough for a while. D. was bullied about things like the bathroom she used. Her mother says it was painful to watch.
“She’s the sunshine, she always has been,” says Amy. “And when you see the loss of light in your child’s eyes and see them cry every night…”
After discussions, research, therapy and visits to the doctor, D. started using puberty blockers a few months ago. However, when this began, Georgia lawmakers began debating SB 140. The law allows puberty blockers but bans minors from starting hormone therapy after July 1st.
Republican supporters of the law said they wanted to protect minors from treatments they might later regret.
“My mom sent me the legal info and I come out crying in the living room,” D. says. “And I’m like, ‘I don’t want to wait until I’m 18. That’s unfair to me.”
Puberty blockers interrupt puberty, but there can be health effects if they do so for too long.
Hormone therapy, the next step, allows trans children to go through puberty consistent with their gender identity. D. would like to grow up with people of the same age and thinks that at 18 it’s too late.
“I think that if I couldn’t be who I want to be and grow up the way I want to grow up, everything would just grind to a halt,” says D.
“You know your kid,” says Amy. “And when you see them looking in the mirror and telling you what they see and who they want to be and it’s blocked, you feel powerless.”
Opponents of SB 140 console each other after the measure was pushed ahead at a Georgia House hearing in March. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)
D. and her parents are now considering what to do next.
“With July 1st as a deadline, we’re being forced to make a decision faster than we’d like,” says Amy. “Yes, we weigh the pros and cons every day and every single conversation.”
Conversations like this happen in many Georgia homes. Amy is part of a group for parents of trans children and says July 1st is a hot topic.
At least one Georgia family has moved out of the state since SB 140 was signed into law. Others say they are considering it, especially families with young trans children. Some families fear Georgia will enact even tougher laws like other states have done this year.
All of this is important for providers like Dr. Izzy Lowell complicated.
“It’s not what I envisioned, but I chose medicine to help people and save lives,” says Lowell.
Lowell specializes in treating transgender patients at QueerMed, her practice near Atlanta. She is licensed in more than 20 states and has an army of attorneys to help her navigate the rapidly changing patchwork of state laws.
“I asked my attorney in Florida, ‘Can I do this specific thing starting today,’ and it took me days to figure out if I could do that that day, and by that point it might have been out of date.” , says Lowell. “As a result, it was extremely difficult, if not impossible, to keep up with these laws even in a state.”
“Me and my caregivers will be there until midnight June 30 to see patients to admit them before the deadline.”
dr Izzy Lowell of QueerMed, an Atlanta-area medical practice specializing in the treatment of transgender patients.
Lowell’s purple office is mostly empty these days. For safety reasons and because some live in states where treatment is restricted, they treat many patients virtually.
Sometimes families travel across state lines to a pop-up clinic or find a parking lot just across the border where care is legal and sign up for a telemedicine visit from their car.
Abortion providers have introduced similar workarounds since many states restricted access to abortions after the US Supreme Court ruled Roe v. Wade had condemned.
“I hope we look back on that short period of time where we just took a wrong turn as a country,” says Lowell. “It has taken a real toll on two of my beautiful young teenagers who have thrived on treatment. And both of them were so disturbed by it [law] that they hurt themselves.”
WABE could not verify the details due to privacy concerns, but Lowell says the two teenagers survived. Lowell says she will continue to do whatever she can to ensure care is within the law.
“Me and my doctors will be up at midnight until June 30 to see patients to admit them before the deadline,” she says.
As for D., she says she is determined to confront this latest obstacle head-on.
“I think people will push the law aside or there are ways around it,” she says. “So I don’t think so [lawmakers] will get exactly what they want.”
D. says that she dreams of the beach for now and maybe moves to a bigger city. She’s also focused on friends, sports, camping – just being a kid about to grow up.
Medical supplies in a drawer at QueerMed, an Atlanta-area medical practice specializing in the treatment of transgender patients. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)