COLUMBIA, S.C. — Twenty-three South Carolina Republicans have signed onto a measure aimed at blocking hormonal treatments for transgender youth. But the bill’s chief sponsor is a Democrat, prompting intense scrutiny from within his own party.
Last week, lawmakers introduced the ” South Carolina Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act,” aimed at prohibiting minors from undergoing sex-reassignment procedures. The measure would bar doctors from prescribing medication or performing procedures to alter gender or delay puberty for anyone under age 18, with felony charges possible for doctors who violate the law.
Its primary sponsor is state Rep. Cezar McKnight, who since 2015 has represented South Carolina’s 101st House District, a largely rural, heavily Democratic area where two-thirds of residents are Black. McKnight, a member of the Legislative Black Caucus, said he’s received an outpouring of support from his constituents, who have told him that, while they don’t necessarily oppose this type of procedure on its face, they think that it is one that should only be made when a person has reached adulthood.
“Black Democrats tend to be more conservative than white progressives,” McKnight told The Associated Press in a recent interview. “I would not have ever put this bill forward if I didn’t think the people in my district wouldn’t be receptive, and they are. Pastors, young parents, older parents, they all tell me the same thing: if you want to do this, wait until you’re 18.”
Similar proposals have come up in other states, with mixed results. One is nearing final passage in Alabama. Others are pending in states including Kansas, Missouri, Indiana and Montana.
McKnight’s South Carolina bill is one of several that opponents say have been aimed at restricting transgender rights in the state. This week, following a firestorm of commentary on both sides, lawmakers officially nixed a bill that would have prevented transgender students from playing on girls’ sports teams in middle and high school.
LGBTQ groups were stunned earlier this month when sexual orientation and gender were removed from factors including race, religion or disability in determining if a hate crime has been committed. The protections for gay or transgender people were later added back into the state bill.
After McKnight’s bill was introduced, leaders of the South Carolina Democratic Party approved a resolution saying the party “condemns this outrageous bill — and its Democratic supporters — in the strongest possible terms.”
Chairman Trav Robertson said the resolution was approved unanimously by the executive committee, which includes two representatives from each of South Carolina’s 46 counties. Current and former party officials criticized McKnight on social media, with one positing a formal censure of McKnight. Regardless, McKnight says he has no plans to withdraw the bill, although he does plan some minor changes, including taking out a provision that would have required teachers to inform parents if their children had expressed concerns about gender dysphoria.
State Rep. Justin Bamberg, a Democrat and fellow member of South Carolina’s Legislative Black Caucus, said he could see why Democrats were upset at what they saw as a restrictive measure put forth by one of their own.
“There are certain things that are very consistent across America, in terms of what it means to be a Democrat: embracing people’s right to be an individual, to like what they want to like, to love who they want to love, to do with their life and do with their body as they see fit,” Bamberg told AP. “I understand the blowback.”
Drew McKissick, chairman of the state GOP, said Democrats’ infighting only highlighted what he characterized as extreme viewpoints in the party overall.
“One lone Democrat decides to hop off their cultural crazy train and the rest of his party throws a conniption fit,” McKissick told AP. “Sane South Carolinians understand the absurdity of sex changes and recognize especially children shouldn’t be allowed to undergo that procedure.”
Blair Durkee, who came out as trans as an adult, said she didn’t have the family support as a child to speak up about her gender dysphoria, but argued that, for trans youth, the ability to transition before puberty could potentially alleviate years of distress. Durkee, a Greenville native, was raised in a conservative family, and was a Republican activist in her youth.
“The idea that some South Carolina lawmaker woke up one day and just decided this wasn’t right and can invalidate decades’ worth of research is just so arrogant and presumptuous,” Durkee told AP. “Why not let that be handled through the system of medicine and let it be worked out by those means?”
As for McKnight, he says his main concern is that a teen might regret the decision later in life.
“This bill isn’t anti-trans,” McKnight said. “I just don’t think, to make a sex change during the teen years, is something someone should do.”
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.