2021-04-09

North Carolina Republicans learn no lessons

You might have thought the fallout from the infamous bathroom bill would have taught them something. If so, it seems you'd have thought wrong.

Although it fortunately stands little chance of becoming law as long as the state has a governor with any sense and the GOP lacks the numbers in the legislature that would be needed to override a veto, North Carolina's SB 514, introduced on April 5 by a group of three Republican state senators, has some truly disturbing provisions that eclipse even Arkansas's recently-passed HB 1570, currently the most brutal anti-trans law in the nation, though similar bills are pending in other states, including at minimum Alabama and Tennessee.

The Arkansas law, which boasts a shamelessly doublespeak name—the "Save Adolescents From Experimentation (SAFE) Act"—that suits its authoritarian nature, is more than bad enough already. Passed over the veto of a Republican governor who aptly described it as government overreach and found the lack of any grandfathering provisions troubling (in other words, it doesn't allow those already receiving treatment to continue to do so), the law criminalizes providing medically-evidenced, potentially life-saving gender-affirming care to anyone under the age of 18. That's an outright blanket ban, in all circumstances, even when the child or teenager, their parents or guardians, and a team of physicians and psychologists all agree on the necessity of such treatments. (Exceptions are carved out, however, for "normalizing" surgeries performed on intersex infants, which by their nature occur without the child's knowledge or consent.)

Though its name isn't quite as Orwellian (the "Youth Health Protection Act"), North Carolina's SB 514 greatly resembles Arkansas's HB 1570 in many ways, down to opening with a barrage of lies, distortions, and even outright contradictions (for instance, arguing both that "a substantial majority" will "outgrow the discordance" between sex and gender—that's the repeatedly and long-since debunked desistance myth—and also, apparently borrowing from England's dubious Bell v Tavistock ruling, that "the overwhelming majority" do not desist at all but rather continue on into have hormone therapy and "cosmetic" surgery) to rationalize the extreme measures that follow. And extreme they are. The body of the bill manages to outstrip Arkansas's law in terms of draconian ruthlessness on multiple fronts.

Here are some of the low points that make it especially indefensible:

Arbitrarily expanding the definition of minors

The bill designates as a "minor" for the purposes of its provisions as "any individual who is below 21 years of age". What, did you think you should be allowed to make decisions about your own body just because you're old enough to vote, buy a house, get married, or join the military? Think again!

Bills like these are typically marketed on the bogus claim that impressionable young children are being pressured into transitioning against their will (never mind that there's no evidence of this happening, or that the bulk of the pressure runs in the opposite direction). How does forbidding people who are legal adults by most standards from deciding what's in their own best interest square with that? It doesn't, because this is rooted in bigotry, not reason, and seeks to impose control, not provide protection.

Defending practices known to actually be harmful

Like the Arkansas law, this bill expressly carves out an exception that allows intersex people to be operated on before they're able to understand or consent. Again, this runs contrary to the "protecting children" narrative, as surgeries of this type are medically unnecessary in most cases and are widely regarded as human rights violations. Teens are supposedly "unable to comprehend and fully appreciate the risk and life implications" of delaying puberty, yet somehow the greater risk, life implications, and inability to comprehend or appreciate what's happening when infants have their genitalia operated on for no real reason aren't a concern.

Where this bill takes things even further is in also specifically prohibiting local governments from placing any restrictions on the pseudoscientific practice of conversion therapy, and forbidding any legal, professional, or civil consequences for engaging in it. Though the bill's provisions are couched in weasel words about "counsel, advice, guidance, or any other speech or communication, whether described as therapy or provided for a fee, consistent with conscience or religious belief", the intent, especially of the last part of the phrase, is clear to anyone familiar with the concept. Note also that this liability shield is not limited to gender change efforts, nor to targeting minors. Where legitimate healthcare gets a blanket ban, illegitimate coercion gets a blanket exemption.

Conversion therapy, even when in a form that isn't immediately obvious as torture, has consistently proven to be both harmful and ineffective. We normally call it fraud to offer something that's harmful and ineffective, which would otherwise make it subject to criminal and civil penalties. In this case, though, it's the fraudsters who would be allowed to sue if they felt their license to grift was being challenged. And they wouldn't even have to pay their own court costs.

Enlisting government employees as gender police

The bill requires all government agents (such as teachers and social workers) to "immediately notify, in writing, each of the minor's parents, guardians, or custodians" of "all of the relevant circumstances with reasonable specificity" if they become aware of any "symptoms", not just of clinical gender dysphoria, but of "gender nonconformity" or of "a desire to be treated in a manner incongruent with the minor's sex".

This provision is particularly ripe for abuse. For one thing, it throws any notion of confidentiality out the window, regardless of circumstances. Sadly, not everyone is fortunate enough to have parents who can be trusted with certain kinds of information. And what if one of their parents isn't even involved in their life at all? Too bad, the bill says "each" parent must be notified, no exceptions.

Arguably worse, "nonconformity" and "incongruent" are left open-ended and up to interpretation. Are you a teen girl who got a short haircut? Nonconformity! There goes a mandatory report to your parents! Are you a boy who wants to take a Home Economics course? Incongruent! That's another mandatory report! Who gets to decide, and why should they be allowed to? And is anyone naïve enough to believe that enforcement wouldn't play favorites, and wouldn't disproportionately target certain demographics?

Remember, too, that "minor" is defined here as anyone under 21. Imagine being an independent twenty-year-old, maybe even married and living in your own home if you have the means, whose parents suddenly get detailed written reports on the ways a government worker doesn't approve of how you dress! Patently absurd, but if the gender police see it as "nonconformity", that's exactly what the bill mandates.

None of this does anything to protect youth or health. It's just an attempt to coerce compliance with 1950s gender norms that were far from universal even then. A reactionary push toward "the good old days" that never were, and never mind who gets hurt along the way. Or maybe the cruelty was the point all along.

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