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Transgender community pushes back as a bill on kids' gender-affirming care moves ahead

Paula Pifer says her daughter is the person she is because of the support she received from her family and the gender-affirming care she got from her doctors.
Regan McCarthy
Paula Pifer says her daughter is the person she is because of the support she received from her family and the gender-affirming care she got from her doctors.

A measure that codifies medical board rules advanced through a Senate panel Monday. As lawmakers prepared to hear the bill, hundreds of transgender people and supporters filled the Capitol’s fourth floor.

A Florida Board of Medicine rule that bans gender-affirming care, such as puberty blockers, for most minors goes into effect Thursday.

On Monday, a bill that codifies those rules advanced through a state Senate committee.

As lawmakers prepared to hear the bill, hundreds of transgender people and their supporters filled the Capitol’s fourth floor. They were people like Paula Pifer, whose daughter Hunter is a model pictured wearing Valentino in this month’s issue of Vogue.

"She’s as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside. You would never know that this young woman was born in the wrong body," Pifer said.

Pifer said when her daughter was young she didn’t behave in the ways a stereotypical young boy might be expected to, so Pifer took Hunter to the doctor.

“And the doctor said, ‘There’s nothing wrong.’ He guessed that she was either my gay son or my transgender daughter. So, I chose to love her unconditionally," Pifer said.

At age 15, Hunter told her mom she wanted to begin using puberty blockers.

“She was able to be part of the first generation of transgender children in the United States of America to receive life-saving care. Hunter completed her transition from male to female by the age of 18. She is now 23 years old. She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts from UF and recently Hunter walked runways with Prada in Italy and Valentino in Paris," Pifer said.

Pifer credits family support and gender-affirming care from doctors as two important factors that have helped Hunter become a successful woman.

Studies have shown that minors who identify as transgender are at a higher risk for suicide attempts and substance abuse compared to other children. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that 41 percent of respondents said they had attempted suicide at some point in their lives.

Todd McCaulighan is a military veteran who at age 56 came out as transgender and will soon receive gender-affirming care through the Department of Veterans Affairs. But McCaulighan said getting that care earlier might have saved a lot of heartache.

“I can tell you what would have happened had I gotten it when I was younger. I would have not been an alcoholic. I would have not had a drug addiction. There are a lot of things in my life that wouldn’t have happened — high blood pressure at age 10 because of the stress," McCaulighan said.

State Sen. Clay Yarborough (R-Jacksonville) is behind a bill that would stop most kids from getting gender-affirming care until age 18. The bill also includes provisions that would allow custody agreements to be revisited if one parent supports a child’s wish to pursue gender-affirming care but another does not. And it puts more rules in place for people of any age to receive gender affirming care. Yarborough said his goal is to keep kids safe.

“We have other components in this bill that relate to adults and relate to the expenditure of state funds, but we want to let kids be kids in Florida. The overall goal of the bill is to protect the children of our state," Yarborough said.

During a Senate Health Policy Committee hearing on the bill, Sen. Lauren Book (D-Plantation), a child safety advocate, pushed against that idea.

I have spent my life protecting kids. I will spend the rest of my life and my time when I am no longer in the Legislature protecting kids. The parents and adults who are here with these children today want to protect kids. It may not look the way you think it should, but we all want to protect kids," Book said.

Book said it’s clear people on all sides of the issue care about this bill because they want what’s best for kids. They want them to be successful and happy and to avoid the heartache of things like suicide attempts and drug addiction. But she said not everyone agrees on the path to help kids get there and she thinks parents are best situated to help their own children make that decision.

"We all believe in parental rights don’t we? Their rights as parents are the same as yours. They may not think the way that you do, but they want to protect their kids the way that it is their right to do. We know and have heard time and time again the suicide rates that exist for this population. We have a responsibility to allow parents the right to protect their kids the way that they see fit.”

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