Two weeks ago, HB 113, an anti-transgender bill that would have banned medical care for trans youth in Montana, failed to pass the House. Now lawmakers are trying again with a similar bill draft (LC 2290). This bill would punish medical providers for treating young people with surgical care as treatment for gender dysphoria, or even for referring them for such treatment. 

There was massive opposition to HB 113 from business leaders, medical providers, faith leaders, advocacy groups, parents, and youth. 

“Montanans from across the state -- from trans youth and their families, to medical providers, to business and faith leaders -- have joined together in support of trans youth and in opposition to a bill that would ban medical care,” said SJ Howell, executive director with Montana Women Vote.  “After seeing so many people come out against this harmful bill, it’s really concerning to see some lawmakers try to sneak such a similar bill back into the mix.  Can’t lawmakers leave trans kids alone?”

This bill attempts to place politicians between patients and their doctors. While current practice for surgical care is already extremely limited for minors, the bill doesn’t take into consideration any scenarios in which there could be a medical need . The American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Physicians, and the American College of Surgeons previously have taken the position that legislative bodies should abide by principles that put patients’ best interest first, including respect for the patient-physician relationship. 

The Montana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics opposes this bill. 

“We, as physicians, provide evidence-based best practice standard of care to all of our patients,” said Kathryn Lowe, MD, Bozeman pediatrician with the MT Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.  “This standard of care is determined by our professional medical societies after meticulously reviewing the scientific research.  The legislature has no role in dictating what medical care we should be providing to our patients.”

LC 2290, requested by Rep. Jennifer Carlson, is currently in the drafting process

Another bill that could harm LGBTQ people and others was introduced on Feb. 10 and will have a hearing in the Senate Judiciary committee today. SB 215, sponsored by Sen. Carl Glimm, could allow some people to assert their religion as an excuse to discriminate against and harm others. 

According to groups opposed to this bill, including the ACLU of Montana, the Montana Human Rights Network, Forward Montana, Montana Women Vote, Planned Parenthood of Montana, Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence and Pride Foundation, this “religious freedom restoration act” could allow people to claim they can discriminate against others on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, race, and more.  The broad language could lead to unintended consequences.  For example, a guidance counselor might refuse to help a gay student, an employer might justify racial discrimination in hiring, or a pharmacist might refuse to fill birth control prescriptions.  The bill could also result in costly lawsuits and increased costs to taxpayers. 

“As Americans we cherish our freedom of religion. But no personal freedom gives us the right to harm others. Sending anyone the message that they have a  right to use religion to discriminate does incredible harm to our communities," said Caitlin Borgmann, executive director, ACLU of Montana.

A growing number of business leaders have expressed their opposition to SB 215. 

“This is yet another bill that would be bad for business in Montana,” said Mark Lauburg, a realtor with eXp Realty in Helena, about SB 215. “The safety, security, and well-being of all Montanans directly impacts the growth and prosperity of our businesses.  Businesses that are open to the public should be open to everyone. Nobody should be turned away because of who they are.”

When Georgia lawmakers passed a similar bill, the Governor vetoed the bill after Coca-Cola, the Walt Disney Co., and Marvel Studios threatened to boycott. In Indiana, Salesforce "canceled all programs" that required customers and employees "to travel to Indiana to face discrimination." Montana is dealing with layers of economic issues due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Legislators should make financial stability for working families a priority, not an attempt to legalize discrimination. 

As if these bills are not enough, a third bill aimed at trans youth is pending in the legislature. HB 112, a bill that would ban young trans athletes from participating in athletic activities consistent with their gender identity, passed out of the House and is currently awaiting a hearing in the Senate. Montanans have also shown their strong opposition to that bill.  In 2019, Montana received approximately $484 million in federal funding for education. If HB 112 passes, Montana could be at risk of losing that funding. 

“It would be great to see lawmakers listen to the communities they serve and stop trying to make laws that would harm LGBTQ people,” said Shawn Reagor with the Montana Human Rights Network.  “Nobody wins when we allow businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people.  Nobody wins when politicians get between medical providers following best practices and their patients. These bills would harm individuals, our communities, and our economy. Lawmakers should be helping Montana families and communities recover from the pandemic instead of attacking our rights.”