JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — While he hopes Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) will quit providing what he called “horrific” gender-related treatments to minors, Tennessee Sen. Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City) told News Channel 11 Thursday he believes the legislature will act to outlaw such procedures next year.
The legislative discussions come in the wake of a series of Twitter posts Wednesday by conservative commentator and journalist Matt Walsh that claimed “Vanderbilt drugs, chemically castrates and performs double mastectomies on minors.”
“Our leadership has decided that we’re going to try to pass legislation such that if you want to have this sort of treatment when you’re an adult, 18 years or older, you can make that decision,” Crowe, who chairs the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, said.
“But until you’re 18 in Tennessee we’re just not going to allow it, so legislation is being drafted now to try to stop this.”
Walsh also posted a video of a VUMC physician in 2018 reporting that gender transition treatment could work as a profit center. The tweets quickly made national news and the reported treatment of minors drew condemnation from Crowe, Tennessee’s First District Congresswoman Diana Harshbarger and other elected officials.
Vanderbilt has responded that any such care has been with the consent of parents and that staff who morally object to the treatment can opt out of involvement.
But Crowe said the treatment, which he referred to as “what’s been called mutilization (sic) of children in Tennessee,” is not something parents should be allowed to permit for their children under the age of 18.
“We see so many of these young people in Tennessee undergoing these kinds of treatments…that are irreversible, and then later on finding out that that’s not who they are and they commit suicide,” Crowe said without citing any statistics. “And so we have to stop this in Tennessee, so I think you’re going to see leadership take a solid stand to do that.”
Crowe said he’s hopeful that VUMC will proactively cease any drug or surgical “gender-affirming” treatments, as they are known. The hospital’s pediatric transgender clinic’s web page has been inactivated, though a Google search shows that it said “The Division of Endocrinology provides care to gender variant and transgender children and adolescents…”
“That’s not Tennessee,” Crowe said. “We’re not going to do that in Tennessee, I’m sorry. If they want to have great counseling, have psychiatry deal with children that are feeling like this and do anything we can to make them understand their feelings, that’s great.”
Crowe said the legislature already passed a law to prohibit gender-affirming hormonal treatments “for young children and minors.”
He also said transgender treatments including surgeries are being promoted by proponents on social media.
“We’re having kids go on Tik Tok and think it’s cool to do this,” Crowe said. “You know, other kids in classes thinking about how this is something neat that they want to do.”
He said he believes the prohibition regardless of parental consent is also necessary because “sometimes you have parents who just aren’t really responsible enough…but to have this kind of life-changing surgery at that age is just not going to happen in Tennessee. We’re going to stop it.”
Crowe said as the previous legislation about hormonal treatment did, any legislation surrounding this issue would allow for exceptions. “There are some medical situations where that’s warranted with certain people who have chromosomes that aren’t normal,” he said.
While Crowe did not cite evidence for the assertion about many young people changing their minds and committing suicide, numerous studies seem to suggest that depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation are present in minors who experience what’s known as gender dysphoria. Some critics have said those studies rely more on correlations than causal evidence.
One 2020 study of more than 20,000 transgender adults ages 18 to 36 found that about 17% of those had wanted “pubertal suppression” and 2.5% of them received it (about 85 people). The study’s summary said after adjusting for demographic variables and family support, the people who received the treatments had lower odds of “lifetime suicidal ideation.”
That study’s conclusion said its results “align with past literature, suggesting that pubertal suppression for transgender adolescents who want this treatment is associated with favorable mental health outcomes.”
Conversely, a “backgrounder” from the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation that analyzed studies about gender dysphoria in adolescents looked particularly at states that had allowed minors to seek and receive “cross-sex medical interventions” without parental consent. It concluded that “efforts to lower legal barriers for minors to receive cross-sex medical interventions do not reduce suicide rates and likely lead to higher rates among young people in states that adopt those changes.”
However, even that study from the conservative-leaning think tank recommended that states adopt “parental bills of rights” that require parental permission for such services.
“The research presented here supports the view that children fare significantly better when their parents have the authority to know about, and help to make, major decisions for their own children,” the report states.
The paper concludes that “given the danger of cross-sex treatments demonstrated in this Backgrounder, states should tighten the criteria for receiving these interventions, including raising the minimum eligibility age.”
Crowe said if the legislation moves forward he would expect it to reach his committee by late January or early February 2023.