Transmissions: Sounding the alarm

  • by Gwendolyn Ann Smith
  • Wednesday November 2, 2022
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Illustration: Christine Smith
Illustration: Christine Smith

I often feel that I am too alarmist. I have spent decades now, deep in the issue of anti-transgender violence and murder, and I know that colors my views. It is hard to look at things objectively sometimes, without expecting the worst of them.

I am also sure that I do not want to write a column that is merely me screaming about how awful things may be because you'd be unlikely to read it. I get it. No one wants to deal with how bad things can be. Times are hard enough.

For years now, we've seen the right-wing using transgender people as a scapegoat and working to criminalize our lives.

We saw the "bathroom predator" meme in use over trans and LGBTQ rights battles, including the successful repeal of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance in 2015. We saw the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act — House Bill 2 — pass in North Carolina back in 2016, a bathroom bill that required a birth certificate to use sex-segregated public restrooms in the state. Thankfully, we did see that bill repealed after a major outcry that led to Republican Governor Pat McCrory, who championed HB 2, losing reelection.

We've seen more recent challenges with Texas classifying care for transgender kids as abuse, threatening to take trans children away from their parents and placing them in an already overburdened foster care system. We've seen hundreds of bills just this year attempting to bar trans kids from school restrooms and sports, caregivers threatened with felony charges, and any number of attempts to bar even the mention of transgender people existing.

But this week, we may have slipped into a new level of ill treatment toward transgender people.

Let's back up to April, when Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo, under the guidance of Republican Governor and likely future presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis, issued guidance through the Florida Health Department seeking to bar gender-affirming medical care, as well as "social gender transition," for minors in the state.

Of course, this is the Sunshine State, home of the Florida Parental Rights in Education Act (HB 1557), better known as the "Don't Say Gay" law that DeSantis signed earlier this year. It went into effect in July and prohibits teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grades. According to reports, the law has already had a chilling effect, with many educators uncertain of what they can discuss in their classrooms.

In August, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, under DeSantis, finalized new rules that ban health care providers from billing the state's Medicaid program for gender-affirming treatments. The new rule was pushed through within a month, in spite of substantial protest and pushback.

This, however, is not the worst of it.

Not yet satisfied with the aforementioned moves, the Florida Board of Medicine — also under DeSantis' control — held a meeting to discuss a ban on gender-affirming care for transgender minors statewide.

It's worth mentioning for those who may not wholly understand the issue that gender-affirming care for transgender youth is usually pretty limited. You can socially transition, adopting a new name and taking on the social role consistent with your gender identity. You can change your attire. In some cases, when puberty is near, medication known as puberty blockers can be introduced. The federal Food and Drug Administration approved these in 1993, primarily to treat non-transgender children going through an early puberty.

Gender-affirming care for youth doesn't tend to include feminizing or masculinizing hormones, nor does it tend to include surgical intervention.

The care that has generally been in use for youth has been shown to be very successful. A ban on gender-affirming care is opposed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Medical Association.

The Florida Board of Medicine meeting, which went on for five hours, was held at the Orlando International Airport. The reason for the unusual venue seems to be that a large number of those seeking to bar the treatment were flying in from out of the state.

As the public comment section of the meeting opened, the first few people spoke in favor of the ban. Then, with about 45 minutes left in the public comment period — and, according to some in the room, just before people set to rebut the previous comments could speak — board member Dr. Zachariah P. Zachariah cut off comments.

A rough draft of a rule was hurriedly discussed by the board, including the possibility of allowing those already in care to be allowed to continue. Zachariah apparently disagreed, pressing for a vote right then — not a draft.

He then declared that the motion passed without announcing a final tally.

One attendee yelled out, saying, "The blood is on your hands!"

Zachariah replied, "That's OK."

Indeed, it would seem that Zachariah — as well as DeSantis — is more than willing to see transgender people done away with. I really do not want to sound alarmist, but Florida — joining Texas — is no longer a safe place for transgender people or their supporters. The state itself is seeking to cause real harm to transgender people.

DeSantis, who is likely to easily win reelection for a second term as governor November 8, sees transgender people as a steppingstone for his national political ambitions — red meat that he can offer his base in the run-up to next week's election. That there are real lives at stake is apparently irrelevant to him.

There will be one more meeting of the Florida Board of Medicine on November 4, at the Holiday Inn Orlando-Disney Springs. I do hope my Florida counterparts give them hell.

I'm not being alarmist: our lives are very much on the line.

Gwen Smith wonders how many more states will join Texas and Florida. You'll find her at

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