Puberty blocker ban bill stalls alongside other culture war measures

Sen. Ben Watson speaks to reporters about his bill banning puberty blockers from transgender minors. (Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder)

(Georgia Recorder) — Two bills watched with dread by transgender Georgians and their allies withered away in the wee hours Friday morning after the House took no action on them on the final day of the 2024 Legislative session.

Every year under the Gold Dome brings new battles in the culture wars and bills often based more upon ideology than practicality, nestled firmly within the crusty crannies of the cultural divide.

This year, as in previous years, questions of ethical appropriateness centered largely on transgender children, but unlike in recent years, the trans kids made it through Sine Die without new restrictions – despite two bills out of the Senate that would have banned transgender children from playing on sports teams or using restrooms corresponding with their gender identities and blocked them from accessing puberty blocking drugs.

Both passed the Senate on party lines, but neither got a House vote Thursday.

“We know there’s some things, we know there’s some issues, social issues, if you will, that are important to Georgians,” said Republican House Speaker Jon Burns to reporters after the House adjourned. “And there’s some of them that we embrace, but they’re also – we know there’s a time. And timing was maybe not right today for some of those issues that came over from the Senate.”

“We’ll continue to work with the Senate and look at those issues and make some determinations on what’s good for all Georgians in every walk of life,” he added. “And so we’re conscious of those issues. They’re priorities – many of them are, but they’re maybe not the same ones as the Senate.”

Cole Muzio, president of the conservative Frontline Policy lobbying group, called the bills’ failure to pass “a missed opportunity.”

“Both of those issues are broadly supported by a lot of Georgians,” he said. “And I think as people prepare to go to the polls in November, as they’re looking for what they expect out of this building, that’s the kind of bold action they are looking for. Obviously, a lot of good things happened in this building this year. Georgia needs to turn in the right direction, but we’ve a lot to do heading into 2025, and so we’re excited to add those onto our agenda then and we’ll be back tomorrow.”

House Democrats expressed relief when the chamber adjourned close to 1 a.m. without taking up the controversial measures.

“I’m happy that we did not pass legislation that would have caused a lot of real harm for a very vulnerable population, transgender youth,” said Lawrenceville Rep. Sam Park, Democratic Caucus whip and the first openly gay man elected to the General Assembly. “It’s a reminder that despite the polarized political environment that we’re in, that we can still come together and move Georgia forward by, again, not passing a very dangerous and harmful piece of legislation. It’s been a tough legislative session, but yeah, I think we ended just fine.”

Puberty Blockers

Under the pen of Senate Education and Youth Committee Chair Clint Dixon, House Bill 1170, which originally put opioid reversal drugs into government buildings, instead became an effort to ban puberty-blocking drugs for transgender minors.

These drugs, originally used by children who enter puberty too early, have been used in recent years by kids with gender dysphoria to put off going through a puberty that doesn’t match their views of themselves. Last year, the state banned hormone therapy, or prescribing testosterone or estrogen, to minors, but allowed puberty blockers to remain as what GOP lawmakers called a compromise.

Sen. Ben Watson, a Savannah physician who sponsored the bill in the Senate, said also forbidding doctors from prescribing drugs to prevent children from going through puberty will make parents’ jobs easier.

“Last year and this year, many parents have come to me privately wishing that this law was in effect in the past,” he said. “And I find that affirming, I find that sometimes challenging, from that perspective, it is difficult, no doubt, being a parent, and sometimes saying no is difficult, but saying no, many times, with the law behind you makes it easier.”

Watson said the effects of puberty blockers can be permanent and he hoped to prevent minors from making life-altering decisions.

“Surgery is irreversible. Sex change hormones are irreversible, and puberty blockers can also be irreversible,” he said. “With the fact that if you’re not on puberty blockers, half of the children do not go on to proceed changing their sex, I think that’s very important. With the puberty blockers, virtually 100% go ahead and do sex change hormones. I think we need to give the children continued mental health counseling, continued care, continued love.”

Many transgender people say going through what they often call the wrong puberty was a difficult time.

“It can really make a big difference. I started before I turned 18, and that was before SB 140, and that was a big hot button issue for some people, but I can’t tell you how happy that made me,” said Lucas Tucker, a transgender man from Decatur who came to the Capitol to speak against anti-trans bills in committee hearings. “If I wasn’t on them now, I would not be the person I am. It really makes a huge difference.”

“Giving trans children access to their bathrooms and their hormone therapy and things like that will save them,” he added. “Because people make fun of us. They say, oh, 40% or whatever of trans people kill themselves. You know why? It’s because of you. It’s because you make it possible for us to do that. You enforce legislation that shoves us back in the closet. And for a lot of people, being in the closet is the same as being dead because you can’t live in the closet.”

Christmas tree bill

Senators placed provisions banning transgender students from playing on sports teams or using restrooms conforming with their gender identity as well as a ban on sex education before 6th grade and provisions allowing parents to more easily monitor the books their children check out from school libraries into House Bill 1104. That measure was originally a bill from Decatur Democratic Rep. Omari Crawford that was intended to address mental health and suicide risks for student athletes.

Such bills are sometimes called Christmas tree bills because they are adorned with amendments like a Christmas tree is covered in decorations.

As he left the chamber early Friday morning, Crawford said he hopes to come back next year and push for his original bill, which he says will protect student athletes’ mental health.

“I’m glad that the bill and the Senate substitute did not pass,” he said. “There was a lot of language that I didn’t agree with, and so what we’ll try to do next year is make sure that language that was the intention of the bill is reintroduced, hopefully we can pass that.”

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