Oklahoma GOP links federal Covid funding for hospitals to ending gender-affirming care

When Oklahoma lawmakers meet More than $108 million in federal pandemic relief funding was allocated to one of the state’s largest hospital systems last week, and many expect a routine vote in support of upgrading its hospital system. Medical records and cancer treatment centers.

instead, Republican lawmakers added an explosive provision: OU Health will only receive those funds, including $39.4 million for a new pediatric mental health facility, if Oklahoma Children’s Hospital stops providing gender-affirming care.

The move, the governor of Oklahoma. Kevin J. Stitt (R) signed into law on Tuesday, marking the Conservative state lawmakers have for the first time successfully linked gender-affirming care to funding from the American Relief Program Act (ARPA), a $1.9 trillion effort to restart the economy and strengthen health care during the coronavirus pandemic.

Republicans in Oklahoma were forced into action in a movement led by a pair of conservative podcasters who hailed the move as necessary to limit the type of medical care for young transgender patients who have angered the party’s base this year.

“By signing this bill today, we are taking the first step toward protecting children from permanent gender-transition surgery and treatment,” Stitt said in a statement. “It is highly inappropriate to use taxpayer money to condone, promote or enforce such controversial procedures on healthy children.”

Some advocates worry This The latest move in Oklahoma Likely to encourage other Republican-majority legislatures to add similar restrictions Before allocating federal and state funds to publicly funded hospitals and clinics. Hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in state legislatures in recent years. This year, at least 160 measures were considered, nearly two-thirds of which focused on trans rights. Oklahoma is part of this trend, with a bill restricting bathrooms and exercise venues for trans residents.

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Still, transgender advocates and medical experts say OU Health’s facilities have been following its best practices for gender-affirming care. OU health officials will not outline which services will be discontinued as a result of the legislation. But an Oklahoma pediatrician who treats transgender youth in the region said she believes all hormone therapy and surgery will stop: “In order to receive this treatment, they have to leave the state now,” Shauna Lawley said. About 100 children are receiving gender-affirming care at the center, the Democratic senator said. Carrie Hicks told reporters.

Parents of transgender children in care at Oklahoma Children’s Hospital say they may have to Go to Kansas or Colorado. Shane Poindexter, whose 14-year-old transgender son spent a year in hospital and is on hormone-suppressing drugs, said his son tried to kill himself before going to the clinic.

“It’s a place where they can go, be themselves and be accepted. Kids are bullies,” Poindexter said. “It destroyed him mentally. The love and affection from that place was amazing. We don’t know what we’re going to do now.”

The federal stimulus package includes about $350 billion to support state and local government budgets with few strings attached. By the end of last year, if the economy recovered significantly faster than lawmakers expected, it could pave the way for states to use aid in unexpected ways.

In Oklahoma, the legislature last year opened a public portal that allows any state resident to submit an application for discretionary funds. They received more than 1,400 proposals, which were reviewed by state legislatures this summer, before sending dozens of them to the full legislature for a vote.

State and local funding is part of a larger pool of nearly $5 trillion that Washington sent out in the first two years of the pandemic, posing an unprecedented challenge to explaining how the money is being used. For example, some Republican governors have tried to pay for tax cuts with aid because there are few rules on how states use their shares. In Florida, Governor. Ron DeSantis and other Republican state lawmakers used the interest they earned from federal aid to pay a $12 million fund to pay for transporting immigrants to Massachusetts last month .

Children’s hospitals across the country are also facing escalating threats of violence over online anti-LGBTQ campaigns targeting gender-affirming care. Some states have taken other actions to block public funding for transgender care; this year, Florida became one of at least 10 states to block Medicaid coverage.

“It’s outrageous and unbelievably despicable,” said Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior advisor to the human rights movement advocating for the LGBTQ community of Oklahoma’s bill. It’s really about covid relief. It’s about reopening the economy.”

Efforts to end transgender care at OU Health have been accelerated by two conservative podcasters who began demanding action from lawmakers last month their shows and social media.

The target of their outrage is the Roy G. Biv program at Children’s Hospital of Oklahoma, which has been providing mental health counseling and hormone therapy, including puberty blockers, for the past six years. In a few cases, it also referred patients who had transitioned from women to men to surgeons for mastectomy.

Mark Osley In mid-September, he appealed to his 20,000 Twitter followers and the audience of his “UnWokable Podcast” in Oklahoma to call on lawmakers and demand that OU Health’s federal funding be withheld. He was later joined by conservative podcaster Megan Fox, who aired her calls to lawmakers and provided her 23,000 Twitter followers with a script to do the same.

“My mission in life is to humiliate any Republican who votes for this,” Osley wrote. 25 tweets in a Sept.

Transgender advocates and Oklahoma lawmakers say the movement has had a visible impact.

“One of them was on the air all day, calling legislators and asking them why they were abusing children,” said Cindy Nguyen, policy director at the ACLU of Oklahoma. “There was a lot of inflammatory language; it Momentum was built.”

Republicans introduced the bill in September. 28. During Thursday’s debate, Republican lawmakers argue Younger patients are taking hormones that can harm the body — something the American Medical Association disputes — and says all transition surgeries in Oklahoma for under-18s should be banned.

“To facilitate and help taxpayers’ money, gender reassignment should be banned in this state,” the senator said. Jake A. Merrick (R) said. “I think it reflects most of the views and values ​​that this state holds.”

Meanwhile, several Democrats in the House of Representatives took the time to present to the House of Representatives. Mauree Turner (D), Oklahoma’s first openly nonbinary lawmaker, called on her colleagues not to be swayed by social media and phone activity.

“I hope one day you can understand what it’s like to be born in a body that’s not yours. That’s what our young people across Oklahoma face,” Turner said, adding that they “Come out” to their mom in second grade. “Oklahoma has the money to take care of our people, we don’t have to wage this war against them, we don’t have to use our kids, our youth as pawns. Please vote no.”

After the Senate approved it by a 31-13 vote, the bill passed the House by a 68-23 vote. Although the vote was largely partisan, some Republicans in both chambers voted against the bill, either because they said the language against the OU Health plan was not strong enough or because they opposed the acceptance and distribution of the pandemic A total of relief funds.

OU Health was quick to respond to the measure, saying last week that it had “actively planned to discontinue certain gender medicine services”.

But OU Health President and CEO Richard Lofgren sent an email to health care system employees on Friday, saying that while he knew some members of the legislature might propose targeting transgender people project’s bill, but he “did not expect to be flagged in an ARPA request.”

Lofgren also expressed disappointment that the legislature called for an immediate end to transgender health care.

“We are not given a reasonable timeline to safely transition patient care,” he wrote in an email obtained by The Washington Post. “For our physicians, our professional guidelines and Hippocrates It’s morally distressing that the oath cannot provide a safe transition of care, but we must obey the law.”

A group of Republican lawmakers — and podcasters — are pushing for more. Last week, a group of senators held a news conference, saying the next step should be a permanent statewide ban on health services that help Oklahoma youth transition.

“We should immediately ban these surgeries, these puberty blockers, and what’s done to these kids, statewide,” the senator said. Nathan Dahm (R), who recently appeared on the Ousley Podcast, said in a news conference . Damm, who has previously proposed legislation on the subject but has so far failed to get a hearing, did not respond to calls seeking comment.

On Saturday, Republican lawmakers continued to push for a statewide ban, calling on Stitt to convene another special session. “We can’t wait until a meeting and then hopefully we can get through something. This is your moment!” Merrick said in a tweet, marked Fox and Ousley. This post comes just days after Merrick appeared on Ousley’s podcast. Merrick did not respond to calls seeking comment.

But Stitt said on Tuesday he would not hold another special meeting on the matter, instead calling for a permanent ban on treatment to be passed next year.

“I call on the legislature to ban all irreversible sex reassignment surgery and hormone therapy for minors when it next meets in February 2023,” he said.

Advocates say the bill Stitt signed Tuesday has set a dangerous precedent.

“This is funding health care for children who, they believe, are being denied necessary medical care based on discrimination and gender identity,” Oakley said.

Alice Crites and Tony Romm contributed to this report.

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