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Georgia's ban on gender-affirming care for minors takes effect July 1

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

There are only two weeks left for many transgender kids to access gender-affirming care in several states, including Georgia and South Dakota. This spring, Republican lawmakers in Georgia voted to ban hormone replacement therapy and gender-affirming surgery for most minors. Now families and doctors are preparing for the law that takes effect July 1. A warning to listeners that this piece discusses adolescent self-harm. Here's WABE's Sam Gringlas.

SAM GRINGLAS, BYLINE: D. just finished seventh grade. She loves soccer and volleyball. She's with her mom at a picnic table in a neighborhood park and says she's ready for summer.

D: Going on a few trips, hanging out with a lot of friends, hanging out with my friends all the time.

GRINGLAS: But D.'s been bullied for things like which bathroom she used. Her mom, Amy, says this was painful to watch. A note that we're only using D.'s first initial and her mom's first name for the family's safety.

AMY: She is sunshine. You know, she always has been. And when you see that - the loss of light in your child's eyes, and you just see them crying every night...

GRINGLAS: D. says she felt more like a girl since she was little, though that's not what her birth certificate said. When she got older, she learned medical treatments could help affirm her gender identity.

D: It kind of, like, opened my eyes a little and it's like, oh, this is an option. And I really think it's for me. And then I was like, oh, instead of being a dad, I could be a mom. And that was really, like, happy to me.

GRINGLAS: After discussion, research, therapy and doctor visits, D. started puberty blockers. But as that was getting going, Georgia lawmakers began debating SB 140. The law allows puberty blockers, but bans those under 18 from starting hormone therapy after July 1. The Republican supporters said they wanted to protect children from treatments they may regret.

D: My mom sent me the law information, and I come out in the living room crying, and I'm like, I don't want to have to wait till I'm 18. That's unfair for me.

GRINGLAS: Puberty blockers pause puberty. But there can be health effects of doing that too long. Hormone therapy allows trans kids to go through puberty that matches their gender identity. According to providers, it would have been the logical next step for D. Waiting until 18, she says, is too late.

D: I think that everything would just, like, shut down, not being able to be who I want to be or grow up how I want to grow up.

AMY: You know your child. And when you see them looking in the mirror and telling you what they want to see and who they want to be and it being blocked, you feel powerless.

GRINGLAS: D. and her parents are weighing what to do next.

AMY: Having the set date of July 1 - you know, it pushes us to make a decision faster than what we want. You know, yes, we weigh the pros and the cons every single day, every single conversation.

GRINGLAS: Amy goes to a group for parents of trans kids. July 1 is on everyone's mind. At least one family's moved out of state. Others say they're considering it, fearing Georgia will pass stricter laws like other states. All this is complicated for providers like Dr. Izzy Lowell.

IZZY LOWELL: This isn't what I thought it would look like, but I went into medicine to help people and to save lives.

GRINGLAS: Lowell specializes in treating transgender patients at QueerMed near Atlanta. She's licensed in more than 20 states and has an army of lawyers to navigate the shifting rules.

LOWELL: It's been extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, to keep up with these laws, even in one state.

GRINGLAS: Lowell's purple office is mostly empty these days. She's seeing many patients virtually for safety. In states where care is banned, some of her patients travel across state lines to reach a pop-up clinic or find a parking lot just over the border and log on for a telehealth visit.

LOWELL: I hope we look back on this as this brief period when we just took a wrong turn as a country.

GRINGLAS: But Lowell says these laws are having an effect now.

LOWELL: It's taken a real toll on two of my wonderful young teens who have been thriving under treatment. And they both were so distressed by this that they committed self-harm.

GRINGLAS: NPR couldn't verify the details due to privacy laws, but Lowell says the two teens made it through. And she says she'll continue to do what she can to help.

LOWELL: Me and my providers will be up until midnight on June 30, seeing patients to get them in before the deadline.

GRINGLAS: As for D., she believes people will find ways around the law or work to overturn it altogether. She says she doesn't think the lawmakers who passed it are going to get exactly what they want.

For NPR News, I'm Sam Gringlas in Atlanta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sam Gringlas is a journalist at NPR's All Things Considered. In 2020, he helped cover the presidential election with NPR's Washington Desk and has also reported for NPR's business desk covering the workforce. He's produced and reported with NPR from across the country, as well as China and Mexico, covering topics like politics, trade, the environment, immigration and breaking news. He started as an intern at All Things Considered after graduating with a public policy degree from the University of Michigan, where he was the managing news editor at The Michigan Daily. He's a native Michigander.