Hoosiers gathered on Feb. 22 to oppose SB 480. Photo by Lauren Gdowski.
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Hundreds of Hoosiers filed into the Indiana Statehouse on Wednesday, Feb. 22 to protest the Senate Committee on Health and Provider Services’ hearing regarding Senate Bill 480. This bill, written by Senator Tyler Johnson, R-14, and Senator Ed Charbonneau, R-5, would prohibit healthcare providers from treating transgender patients under the age of 18 by way of gender-affirming medical care.
SB 480 was passed in the Senate on Feb. 28 and will be presented to the Indiana House of Representatives at a later date.
Emotional testimonies were given on both sides of SB 480 in a hearing on Feb. 22 that lasted nearly three hours. Many of those in favor of the bill believe it is an issue of maturity and informed consent, citing that children are too young to understand the permanent effects of gender reassignment procedures. Many of those who oppose believe the bill would strip parents of their right to make medical decisions on behalf of their children and deprive said children of medical care they need to live a happy life.
Ollie Sikes, a trans-masculine sophomore theatre and creative writing double major, said even though he could not carry the poster he made for the event, he still wanted to make sure his message was heard.
“They had to take away my poster because it was too big,” Sikes said. “It said, ‘Give trans youth a chance that I never got to have.’ Since my parents find transgenderism kind of taboo, [they] didn’t teach me anything about it … all I was taught was womanhood … I would have loved the opportunity to be able to explore possible medical care for my gender identity.”
Sikes said he worries that banning gender-affirming care for young children, particularly puberty blockers, would do more harm than good for transgender children and their families.
Puberty blockers are a form of treatment for gender dysphoria in children and teenagers which halt the presentation of secondary sex characteristics by suppressing the release of sex hormones such as estrogen and testosterone during puberty.
“I can’t see [puberty blockers] bringing anything but positivity to trans kids,” Sikes said. “So I think this bill … is not really helping anyone in any way … I think that it would only make things more difficult for families and for kids.”
Adam Barney, a sophomore psychology-anthropology and philosophy double major, holds a similar perspective to Sikes, but understands why some may be concerned about the effect certain gender-affirming procedures would have on young children.
“It’s a fear of an unknown or irreversible change occurring to children,” Barney said. “ So [I think it’s the] fear of the unknown. You can do [research], just find out that [treatment] is not hurting anyone … [It’s] helping the individual.”
In an interview with WTHR13, Riley Hospital for Children clarified that the hospital does not provide gender affirmation surgeries to minors, nor do they refer patients out-of-state for said surgeries. The primary gender-affirming care the hospital currently provides comes in the form of puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapy, which would be entirely banned under SB 480.
According to the Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, nearly 45% of those surveyed highly considered suicide in the last year, and one in five transgender and nonbinary youth surveyed had attempted suicide. A study on transgender adolescent suicide behavior published by the American Pediatrics Academy found transgender and nonbinary adolescents had significantly higher rates of reported suicide attempts than their cisgender counterparts.
Sophomore music performance major Emily Pyke is concerned for the mental health and well-being of the transgender youth who may lose access to gender-affirming care.
“I think that there would be a lot of unnecessary suicides if it gets passed in the Senate as well.” Pike said. “And for obvious reasons, that’s not okay.”
Sikes, a Texas native, chose Butler because he believed attending would give him the best opportunity to be himself. Now Sikes fears that opportunity may be in jeopardy.
“I think Indiana is becoming less safe for trans people, which is very sad for me to see because I come from Texas,” Sikes said. “I left Texas partially because I thought I would find more freedom here … seeing … more and more laws against queer people — it’s just very disheartening.”
Chrissy Marie Dubow, an Indiana transgender woman and drag queen known by her stage name Virginia Slimm, worries that bills like HB 1608 and SB 480 are only the beginning of anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation in Indiana.
“It seems like they’re coming for a lot of trans youth … because they’re the easiest to target,” Dubow said. “And then it’s gonna go towards our adults because there’s [proposed] bills that are like, ‘You can’t change your name or gender marker.’”
Just two days before the hearing on SB 480, Indiana’s House Committee on Education voted to pass HB 1608 on to the House floor. The bill would prohibit educators from teaching children in grades kindergarten through third about human sexuality. Beyond that, it also requires school staff to use the name, pronouns and gender markers for children that align with their birth sex unless the child is emancipated or their parents give written consent.
HB 1608 has since been passed in the House, which means it will next move on to the Senate before, if passed, being turned over to Governor Eric Holcomb to be signed into law.
Like the protest for SB 480, members of the Indianapolis LGBTQIA+ community packed the state house in opposition of HB 1608 on Monday, Feb. 20. Hundreds of queer Hoosiers and their allies vocally protested the hearing, and some even provided personal testimony in opposition of the bill.
Although the ruling in the hearing was not what those protesting had hoped for, Pyke still felt a sense of community at the rally on Monday morning.
“It was really nice to see that many people show up all for something that matters to all of us so much,” Pyke said.
After passing in the Committee of Health and Providers by an 8-3 vote and then passing in the Senate, SB 480 is now set to be presented before the Indiana House of Representatives. With HB 1608 on its way to the Senate, those in opposition of these bills are fearful of what the future will hold for LGBTQIA+ Hoosiers.
Barney wants to believe a more positive future is possible for those who oppose the current legislation concerning transgender youth.
“My hope is that in the near future … we can create a more sustainable and healthy environment from them,” Barney said. “I also just hope that … parents do research to figure out … what is necessary and then give their kids the care they need.”