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Idaho Lawmakers Hear Tearful Testimony On Transgender Therapy Bill

James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio
A bill from Rep. Christy Zito (R-Hammett) would make it a felony for doctors to provide hormones or sex reassignment surgery to minors.

LGBTQ advocates packed multiple rooms at the Idaho capitol Tuesday afternoon and into the evening. They waited for hours for their chance to speak against a bill that would make it a felony for doctors to offer hormones or sex reassignment surgery to transgender youth.

Tears were shed and anger was thinly veiled among some of the roughly 50 people who urged Idaho lawmakers to banish this bill to a desk drawer.

Dr. Ashley Davis has treated more than 270 young transgender patients and owns a family care clinic in Boise. Davis would be a felon and would face up to life in prison under the proposal.

“I have seen their hopelessness when they hate their bodies. I have seen their anxiety when they can’t escape their appearance. I have seen their fear of losing their family and I have seen their fear of losing their friends and their whole life,” she said.

Clergy from the Jewish faith and a handful of Christian denominations joined parents and transgender people in sharing stories of caring for a loved one – or themselves – as they went through dark times before being able to transition.

Some had contemplated suicide. Some they knew had carried through with it.

“We grew up believing we were wrong somehow – confused, freaks,” said Melissa Rayne Martin from Idaho Falls, an intersex woman who works with a transgender outreach group.

Half of that group died by suicide within the past three years, Martin said.

The younger members are under 25 years old and received hormone therapy from the time they were teenagers.

“Today, they’re happy, healthy adults. They’re productive Idahoans – they’re even taxpayers,” she said.

Just five who spoke during the three hours of testimony before the House Judiciary and Rules Committee supported the proposal from Rep. Christy Zito (R-Hammett).

Her voice wavering and a tissue in hand as she opened the hearing, Zito told the audience that packed the room, along with two others, “I approach this with nothing but feelings of love and care and concern for everyone in this room.”

“Our goal here today is to protect our children and to make sure that medical treatments, surgeries, whatever it might be, done to their bodies would be in their best mental interest,” she said.

Marcia Yiapan was one of the few who backed Zito. Yiapan said the state needs to put a stop to sex reassignment surgery. Groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics, which supports transition therapy, are heading in the wrong direction, she said.

“The professional organizations I think that have agreed to it, I’m sure they’ve been cowed by the homosexual lobbies,” Yiapan said.

Dr. William Malone, an endocrinologist in Twin Falls, said he’s worried providing gender confirmation treatment to children will result in “widespread pain and suffering,” like well-meaning interventions of the past, such as the over prescription of opioids and lobotomies.

“I’m concerned that history is repeating itself,” Malone said.

Technically, Zito’s bill wouldn’t create a new section within Idaho’s code books. Instead, it piggybacks on a law created last year that outlaws female genital mutilation – a practice rooted in cultural traditions in Africa, Asia and the Middle East that affects more than 200 million girls and women across the globe.

That law’s creator, Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy (R-Genesee), confronted Zito about mixing the two issues.

“I feel like that issue has been hijacked,” Troy said. “I just think we’re making a huge mistake to take off any of our attention to that issue.”

“I feel like the gravity of what you’ve expressed … applies just as greatly to our children and our future generations,” Zito replied.

Her bill is one of three pieces of legislation LGBTQ advocates view as an assault on transgender rights. One would ban transgender women from competing on sports teams that align with their gender identity, something the Idaho attorney general's office called "constitutionally problematic" in a letter released Tuesday morning.

Another would bar transgender people from changing the gender marker on their birth certificate. A similar state policy was struck down as unconstitutional in 2018 by a federal court.

House Judiciary and Rules Committee Chairman Greg Chaney (R-Caldwell) said he would continue to accept public testimony at a future date and will schedule a future date to vote on the bill Wednesday.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season. If you have a tip, please get in touch!