Gov. Brian Kemp has signed a controversial bill banning doctors from performing surgery or hormone treatments on transgender people under the age of 18.
“Today I signed SB 140 into law to ensure that we protect the health and welfare of children in Georgia,” Kemp wrote in a statement. “I appreciate the many hours of respectful debate and deliberation by members of the General Assembly that led to the final passage of this bill. As Georgians, parents and elected leaders, ensuring our children’s bright, bright future is our highest responsibility – and SB 140 is taking an important step towards fulfilling that mission.”
Kemp signed the bill Thursday after it passed Tuesday, waiving the traditional 40-day post-session signing period and refraining from hosting a public signing ceremony. Physicians who break the law could lose their license and, thanks to an amendment by the House of Representatives committee, could face civil or criminal penalties.
The law is scheduled to take effect on July 1, and underage transgender people who have been prescribed hormones before that date will be able to continue treatment. The bill will not restrict the use of drugs used to suppress puberty, said rule author Sen. Carden Summers, a Republican from Cordele, and is intended to provide a cool-off before young people make a decision they may later regret.
MPs said they had been contacted by Georgians who made the transition at a young age and are beginning to regret it, but no one spoke at any of the hearings on the bill.
Scores of transgender youth, their parents, and other supporters came to the Capitol to speak out against the passage of the law.
One of them was Adam Phillips, 15. Phillips, who is transgender, was returning from the Capitol, where he was attempting to meet with lawmakers, to his Savannah home where he planned to continue the fight by encouraging others to call Kemp and to write him office.
“His office had made it seem like they were really looking into the matter and working with everyone else. We talked about just keeping calling his office and trying to keep her from doing it until the session was over,” he said. “But I was really surprised that he signed so early. I was not expecting that.”
On Tuesday, a spokesman for the governor’s office said the bill would “undergo a thorough review process.”
According to a 2018 policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics, surgical procedures are typically reserved for adults but may be offered “on a case-by-case basis with the adolescent and family along with input from the medical, mental health,” and “adolescent” communities become surgical providers.”
The APA notes that transgender children who receive care that recognizes their gender identity tend to achieve better academic and social outcomes.
In practice, surgery on minors is extremely rare, doctors say, and hormones are not prescribed without careful consideration.
“I started testosterone therapy about a week before I was 14, which is obviously very young and very unusual, but that was because I came out at eight and was in therapy for five years before ever talk about HRT,” Phillips said.
“It’s very rare to start that young as there are a lot of really lengthy processes to do hormones or other medications related to the transition,” he added.
Phillips said hormone replacement therapy has improved his life, and while he may be a grandfather, he worries about younger children who may not be able to receive the care he has received.
“Before I received HRT, I had difficulty interacting with my colleagues. I had a hard time going outside and talking to people because I was just so scared and insecure, and it was really taking a toll on my health and mental well-being,” he said. “HRT has improved my well-being in every way and has really enabled me to thrive at school and with my peers. By denying those opportunities to people younger than me, you are not giving them a chance to truly experience life.”
A lawsuit is expected. Democrats have argued that the bill could violate the 14th amendment.
“We will use all legal tools at our disposal to prevent this bill from harming children and families. It’s disturbing how quickly the governor is signing legislation that deprives people of their rights,” said Andrea Young, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia.
The ACLU prosecutes 430 anti-LGBTQ laws in the state legislature, 116 of which relate to medical care.
Meanwhile, right-wing groups and individuals like Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene are urging the legislature to go further.
In a tweet after the bill passed the House of Representatives, Greene criticized the bill for not restricting puberty blockers and for having “vague wording that could result in it being easily thrown out in court.”
Janae Stracke, vice president of field operations for right-wing lobby firm Heritage Action, vowed to continue the fight for an expansion of the bill.
“While Heritage Action recognizes the steps taken to strengthen SB 140, we look forward to working with the Georgia General Assembly to go even further in the future to protect minors suffering from gender confusion,” she said in a statement. “To that end, we thank the House and Senate for their efforts to amend this legislation to prevent the door to legal protection being left closed to children suffering the irreversible effects of medical experimentation. We will continue our work among Georgian citizens to fight to protect children from dangerous cross-sex hormones and experimental surgeries.”