A new California bill aims to guarantee that kids in foster care have access to gender-affirming healthcare.
AB 2119 doesn’t change the law as much as clarify it, according to advocates. Under it, youth in foster care would be entitled to medical and mental health services that affirm their gender identity. That includes interventions to alleviate “gender dysphoria” as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Assemblymember Todd Gloria of San Diego introduced the bill, the first of its kind in the country, on Feb. 8.
“It’s merely saying this is a young person who’s exploring their gender and has a right to talk to someone about it and figure out what the appropriate approach for that person is,” Shannan Wilber, Youth Policy Director for National Center for Lesbian Rights , tells INTO. “So, the door doesn’t get shut before they even have an opportunity to explore those issues.”
The bill doesn’t define what health care is included but instead broadly defines “gender affirming health care” as “health care that respects the gender identity of the patient, as experienced and defined by the patient.”
Youth in foster care are already entitled to medical care. In 2015, California made history when it became the first state to allow kids in foster care to be placed according to their gender identity rather than their assigned sex at birth. Consequently, trans kids have the option of saying what gender they identify as when they are going to share bedrooms with boys or girls in foster homes.
But social workers have often hesitated about connecting youth to transition-related care, unsure of their responsibilities, says Wilber.
“One of the clear rights that young people have is the right to any kind of medically necessary care,” Wilbur says. “And I think the reason there has been confusion or that it has not necessarily universally understood is that I think there’s still plenty of people who don’t necessarily know that gender-affirming care is primary medical care. And there’s a whole set of established standards that govern that care.”
Dr. Johanna Olson-Kennedy, medical director for transyouth health and development at Children’s Hospital, Los Angeles, said in a statement the legislation would remove barriers to life-saving care.
“It is critical that transgender and gender nonconforming youth in the foster care system know that they have a right to access gender-affirming health care,” Olson- Kennedy says. “Denying or delaying access to those services places already vulnerable youth at high risk of substance abuse, long-term mental health issues, suicide attempts and community violence.”
The bill has the backing of the ACLU of California, Equality California, Lambda Legal, and the Los Angeles LGBT Center.
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