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A new law in California protects transgender youth who come for medical care

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A new California law protects families who travel to the state seeking medical care for transgender youth. It's a response to growing efforts in red states against trans rights. Lesley McClurg from member station KQED has more.

LESLEY MCCLURG, BYLINE: After decades of building a life in Texas, a mother suddenly worried she might be investigated for child abuse.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: We were stunned that it was no longer safe for us to be there.

MCCLURG: She requested we not use her name because earlier this year, Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered Family Protective Services to investigate parents with transgender kids. The mother started hearing stories about children who were pulled out of classrooms and interrogated.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: With their parents not being there. And these are children that have only socially transitioned. All they asked for was to be called a different pronoun. That's terrifying.

MCCLURG: Her own 12-year-old daughter socially transitioned three years ago, when she asked her family and friends to use feminine pronouns.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: And so we sat down and talked to our kid. We gave her a little card to go to school with that listed her rights and told her what to do if somebody came to investigate us.

MCCLURG: But the family could not relax. They sold their home, and this fall they packed up all their belongings and moved to Southern California.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: It feels very good to not feel like you're in danger, you know, on that really critical place of, like, our family being ripped apart.

MCCLURG: They feel safe under a new law authored by State Senator Scott Wiener. It ensures families can access hormones or puberty blockers in California. And it shields families from investigations in other states.

SCOTT WIENER: We are going to provide them with refuge, and we're not going to send them back, and we're not going to honor subpoenas. And our law enforcement is not going to enforce the laws of Texas and Alabama criminalizing these families.

MCCLURG: Leaders in 21 states are pushing laws that would restrict medical care for transgender youth. Many of these efforts are tied up in court. Nevertheless, families are panicking because kids who are already on hormones or puberty blockers may lose access to their medication.

GREG BURT: We want these treatments to not be happening on minors because they're permanent.

MCCLURG: Greg Burt is with the conservative Christian California Family Council. He worries kids will regret transitioning.

BURT: We do not assume that your body is the problem. We think it's much more logical to encourage young people to try and get their minds to match their bodies.

MCCLURG: Yet the standard of care for kids who are really distressed and diagnosed with gender dysphoria does include medical interventions. But it's not just the content of the new California law that Burt opposes. He also argues that it violates the Constitution.

JESSICA LEVINSON: There could be litigation both with respect to abortion and with respect to gender-affirming care.

MCCLURG: Jessica Levinson is a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

LEVINSON: But I think the weight of the law indicates that states are separate sovereigns. If and until there is a national standard that indicates, nobody can obtain gender-affirming care or nobody can obtain an abortion, the law allows for that patchwork.

MCCLURG: That patchwork is crucial to Kathie Moehlig's work. She is the executive director of Trans Family Support Services in San Diego.

KATHIE MOEHLIG: The politicians should not be making medical decisions for anybody, nor should they be making parental decisions for anybody.

MCCLURG: A survey from the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention organization, found that 45% of transgender youth have considered killing themselves in the last year. About a decade ago, Moehlig helped her 11-year-old access puberty blockers.

MOEHLIG: My son would not still be alive if we waited to 18. He already was in so much distress and so completely miserable. His body was becoming something that he knew he was not.

MCCLURG: Today, she says her son is thriving in college, studying theology. Yet there's little to no data on whether youth who transition regret that decision later. For the Moehlig family, their only regret is waiting as long as they did. For NPR News, I'm Lesley McClurg.

(SOUNDBITE OF OLIVIA RODRIGO SONG, "GOOD 4 U") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lesley McClurg