SAFE Act-Style Bills Gain Momentum, Need Clarity
Legislative efforts to protect minors from harmful, irreversible gender transition procedures are going so well, some proponents are focusing on the next step: beating the inevitable legal challenges. From one state in 2021, the push to ban gender transition procedures on those too young to legitimately consent is now “moving across the country,” said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, host of “Washington Watch.” “But,” he continued, “observers already anticipate a legal fight from both the ACLU and the transgender industry.”
One state where the battle lines are clearly drawn is in Tennessee. On Monday, the state Senate voted 26-6 to pass SB 0001, the “Protecting Children from Gender Mutilation Act.” Its companion bill in the state House, HB 0001, is scheduled for a final committee vote on Wednesday and continues to be a top priority of Tennessee House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R).
But enactment won’t be the end of the story; the left-wing American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has already threatened to take the measure to court. “We are ready to file this lawsuit, if necessary,” said Kathy Sinback, executive director of Tennessee ACLU. She argued the bill “discriminates on the basis of transgender status and infringes upon the fundamental rights of parents.”
Arkansas’s Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act (2021) and Alabama’s Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection (VCAP) Act (2022) have both been blocked by courts while lawsuits against them proceed.
“In anticipation of this litigation, the Family Action Council of Tennessee [FACT] has offered an amendment to both the House and Senate leadership that counters the ACLU’s version of parental rights,” explained Perkins.
The Tennessee bill is described “in terms of protecting children from emotional harm and promoting children’s dignity,” explained FACT president David Fowler on “Washington Watch,” but without defining the terms emotional harm or dignity. He noted that the Supreme Court, in its decision legalizing same-sex marriage, connected a person’s dignity with a right “to define and express their identity.”
“If we’re not careful,” Fowler warned, the ACLU will exploit the undefined term “dignity” to say that “dignity is self-identification and expression. And parents have a right to protect their children’s constitutional rights. And so, your law is unconstitutional because you’re actually undermining dignity.”
“We’ve offered language … to remove that ambiguity,” said Fowler. The problematic language which FACT’s proposed amendment would edit is not in any of the bill’s mandates, but rather in Legislative Finding (m). “Essentially, legislative findings are the legislature’s instructions to the judge on how to interpret the statute,” Fowler explained. If the amendment is adopted, “we don’t have to worry in the future how this will be interpreted by court,” he said.
Perkins summarized Fowler’s argument, “So, it’s a good bill, but there’s a big loophole when it comes to parental rights.” Fowler answered affirmatively, “This is one of those things where you have a right objective, but the right objectives done the wrong way still wind up being problematic and can come back to bite you.”
“So far, our leadership has rebuffed those invitations,” Fowler told Perkins, urging Tennesseans to contact state House leadership.
Tennessee’s “Protecting Children from Gender Mutilation Act” might need a few leaks plugged, but it indicates how quickly conservatives have mobilized to protect children. It’s difficult to imagine the same conversation taking place even two or three years ago.
But, as conservatives became aware that transgender ideologues were aggressively targeting children for life-altering procedures, they realized they needed to respond. “One lawmaker in Arkansas, Robyn Lundstrom, state representative there, had the courage to stand for this bill,” said Perkins. “We helped her. She stood up. She got it passed. The governor vetoed it. She led the charge, overrode the governor’s veto. It became law.”
“And then guess what?” added Perkins. “Other states across the nation passed it.”
“Arkansas was the first state to pass a robust version of a bill that protects children from these puberty blockers, hormones, gender transition surgeries,” said Travis Weber, FRC’s vice president for Policy and Government Affairs. “So far, 2023 we’ve seen two signed into law,” he said. “Utah’s has a lot of problems,” but South Dakota passed a strong bill. “Even after South Dakota killed it the first time, we worked there first to get a bill moving,” said Perkins. “They signed it yesterday. Why? Because we had people of courage to step forward.”
And now, “there’s 93 versions of this bill moving,” Weber pointed out. “We’ve been having hearings the last few weeks that FRC has been involved in. And some of these are starting to pass state houses, state legislative bodies. And so there is a lot of momentum.” As of last week, legislation to protect minors from gender transition procedures was actively moving in state legislatures in Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.
“The exposé on the horror that was occurring at the gender clinic at Washington University in St. Louis only is going to add the proper fuel to this fire to wake up the nation to the lie and the horror that’s being perpetrated on our nation’s youth,” said Weber. A former employee blew the whistle on the clinic for “morally and medically appalling” behavior, including a “lack of former protocols for treatment” and alleged Medicaid and private insurance fraud.
“This whole thing is based on a lie: the idea that we are not created by God as male and female,” said Perkins. “It is starting to unravel, but it requires people to have the courage to stand up and face this.” Weber agreed, “More and more people who are doing that — concerned parents, elected leaders like [Arkansas Republican] Robin Lundstrom, and detransitioners.”
Detransitioners, “those whose lives have been harmed, harmed and negatively affected by the lies that they were told,” can deliver powerful testimony against gender transition procedures,” said Weber. “When these testimonies are delivered, there’s not much that the forces pushing the lie can say as they try to continue to cover the eyes, hearts and minds of the rest of America.”
“The ACLU will claim [they’re fighting for] equality for everyone under the law. We need reality under the law. The children that are being harmed need reality under the law,” said Weber. “People are waking up to the reality. …People are saying, ‘We want truth and justice and reality.’”
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.