Alabama teen facing ‘forced detransition’ under healthcare ban makes urgent plea to lawmakers

A protester props up a sign that says: 'We love our trans youth'

An Alabama law that makes it a felony for doctors and nurses to provide crucial gender-affirming medical healthcare for trans youth has gone into effect.

Governor Kay Ivey signed one of the most threatening and restrictive anti-trans healthcare bans in the country on 8 April, known as the Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act.

Other states have passed similar anti-trans healthcare bans, including Arizona and Tennessee, but Alabama is the only so far to enforce felony-level punishments.

And on Sunday (8 May), the far-reaching law finally came into effect even as a federal judge weighs whether to grant a plea to put a temporary hold on it.

It means families of trans kids with the means to do so are scrambling to flee the state altogether.

Among them is Jane [not her real name], who is fundraising to move her trans son George [not his real name] to Maryland, hundreds of miles away from his school and loved ones, to ensure he has access to hormone therapy.

“My son and I are very anxious right now,” Jane told PinkNews, “but I cannot imagine what it’s like to be a young trans person like right now.”

Alabama Senate Bill 184, Jane said, will effectively de-transition the hundreds of trans youth in Alabama – including her son.

“If I de-transitioned I would go back to the more intense feelings of gender dysphoria and feel suicidal,” 15-year-old George told PinkNews.

The law has made it a felony for doctors to treat trans youth who are 19-years-old or younger with gender-affirming healthcare, including “life-saving” puberty blockers, which studies have found are safe, effective and medically essential.

Providers found guilty could face fines of up to $15,000 and significant jail time under the law. Educators and school nurses are also banned from “encouraging or coercing” students to not come out as trans to their families.

“My problem is these people want me dead or expect me to be happy with being miserable,” George said. “My life is not your life, repeat that to yourself if you must.”

Alabama’s ban will ‘abuse trans kids by forcefully de-transitioning them’

The worst-case scenario of packing their bags altogether has now become the family’s only option. It’s a choice that not all families can afford, and Jane knows this well.

“People are going to be left behind,” she said.

Jane is one of the countless parents, guardians and caregivers of trans youth who have turned to GoFundMe campaigns for help. Many plead for people to cover their moving costs, from fixing up their cars to rental deposits.

Such fundraisers, as much as they can be lifelines, have their limitations. They rely on large social media followings or retweets from influential users. Jane set up her GoFundMe less than 48 hours after Ivey signed the bill and is now worried as the fundraiser has “stalled” recently.

“Each of us who have a GoFundMe is a valid person trying to get out,” Jane said. “I and every mother are trying to get out and are willing to do anything.”

“These bills are a human rights crisis,” said Jess Kant, a family therapist and part-time Lecturer at Boston University School of Social Work. “Families are forced to choose between stopping life-saving medical care, seeking that care illicitly, or in many cases forced to flee their homes.

“The financial burden is enormous and falls disproportionately on economically disadvantaged families who otherwise have no options,” she said. “Because of the financial burden, many families are having to split up, with one caregiver having to travel to a more trans-friendly state with their trans child, while the other stays behind with the other children.

“These are policies of forced separation.”

Many families – Jane’s included – must be anonymous on their online fundraisers, fearful that being identified could “open them up to state investigation”, like in Texas, Kant added.

But this, too, comes at a cost. “Those who are not public are less likely to get funded,” Kant explained.

Even before the ban took effect yet, Jane said she struggled to acquire testosterone from her local pharmacy. And now the deadline for the bill going into effect has passed, another looms – the family can’t move out until August. Moving in with family members isn’t an option for them either.

Last year, Alabama was one of dozens of Republican-controlled states to consider anti-trans legislation. (Julie Bennett/Getty Images)

For families like Jane and George, anger and confusion have replaced the joy once felt at seeing trans youth thrive.

The majority of medical associations in the US and beyond agree that gender-affirming healthcare is necessary. In a letter to the National Governors Association last year, the American Medical Association warned that anti-trans healthcare bans will lead to greater rates of depression and suicide for trans youth.

“I was confused when they passed the anti-trans healthcare ban,” George said, “it makes no sense to me why they think they know better than all of the doctors and therapists I’ve spoken with.”

“I can’t believe they would make a rash decision, that is, and will be abusing trans kids by forcefully de-transitioning the ones who can’t leave, in front of all their classmates, friends, teachers, and family,” he added, “keeping young trans kids from ever having a normal life.

“We are talking about irreversible mental and physical damage to KIDS, and they are going for the adults next.”

On puberty blockers, a trans teen ‘came to life’, says mother

Before he hit puberty, George couldn’t help but stare at his legs. Something felt off about them – and about his body as a whole, he said. He felt everyone was staring at him, “as well as a nearly indescribable feeling, like when a tornado is coming … you want to disappear.”

Looking back, George came to realise he was experiencing gender dysphoria, which is like “insecurity times 100”.

“I didn’t want to get out of bed,” he said, adding that after his diagnosis his dysphoria only deepened. The family drove to a children’s hospital in Philadelphia – but actually getting the drugs was not as simple.

“Including getting the diagnosis from my therapist, I had to talk to the director there, a doctor and a team of people,” George recalled.

“They talked with my parents with me out of the room, with my brother by himself, all of us together, and me by myself.

“Yes, it was complicated, but I would rather it be a long process instead of doctors making a rash decision. I felt happy to have kind strangers listen to me and try to understand what was happening.”

Being on testosterone changed her son’s life, Jane said. “It was like he came to life.”

Alabama governor Kay Ivey

Alabama’s bigoted anti-trans governor Kay Ivey. (Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

George added: “I knew I was trans 100 per cent when I started wearing masculine clothes and was on puberty blockers because I felt more confident.”

The next couple of months won’t be easy for them. As much as a part of Jane wants to stay and fight against the tide of transphobia, worries about her son’s wellbeing hang heavy over her head.

And George knows just how difficult moving will be, but he knows it’s for the best.

“I am leaving my mum’s hometown, I am leaving my grandparents, my cousins, my aunt and uncle – shortly after being reunited with them – and after being away from my family for so long,” he said.

“I am disappointed that the ban was passed but maybe it’s for the best we leave, better to be safe than sorry because I know they are going to keep pushing these types of laws here.”

Jane hopes that federal judges will grant a preliminary injunction to temporarily stop the legislation amid a lawsuit lodged by top LGBTQ+ activist groups. Plaintiffs, who include four families of trans youth and two medical providers, say the act violates federal law and the Constitution.

The lawsuit, brought by groups such as the Human Rights Campaign and LGBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders and backed by the US Department of Justice, adds that the ban will cause “immediate and irreparable” harm to the plaintiffs.

Following a Friday hearing, however, US district judge Liles Burkey gave no indication whether he would rule on the motion anytime soon, Reuters reported.

“I hope that somebody is going to come to their senses, that some judge strikes it down,” Jane said.

“But I don’t know if that will happen.”