President Joe Biden on Wednesday will order his health agency to begin efforts to ban conversion therapy and expand access to gender-affirming treatment after a slew of state attempts to limit transgender health care, particularly for children.
The president’s executive order will call on the Department of Health and Human Services to clarify that federally funded programs cannot offer conversion therapy, a widely discredited practice that attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and work on a public information campaign about the practice. Biden is also directing HHS to take “steps to address the barriers and exclusionary policies” to different types of health care and treatment.
“I have no room in my heart for hatred and I have no time for intolerance, but we don’t live in a world where everyone feels that way, and this administration understands that more action is needed,” HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Rachel Levine, this first openly transgender senior administration official, said in a statement. “Today’s executive order continues the Biden Administration’s work against prejudice and makes it easier for people living in this country to live their lives openly and freely without fear of harassment, scorn or attack.”
The order comes on the heels of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ move to end gender-affirming care for minors. The Republican governor also banned Medicaid from covering treatments such as hormone replacement therapies and sex reassignment surgery.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in February ordered the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate parents who provide their children with gender-affirming care, comparing it to “child abuse.”
An administration official said Biden will sign the order surrounded by LGBTQI+ kids from Texas and Florida who “have been personally impacted” by those policies. One of the children, who organized student walkouts over the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida, will introduce the president.
On a call with reporters, an administration official said, “It's gonna send [a] message. It's going to direct the full force of the federal government to provide resources and support for families so that while they're under attack by states, they know that we're on their side, and we're providing resources to help them.”
Overall, Biden officials said more than 300 bills targeting LGBTQI+ rights have been introduced in state legislatures this year, many seeking to limit health care or promote conversion therapy, a practice condemned by major medical organizations including the largest doctor organization, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
The bills “bully kids” and “are out of line with where the American people are,” the administration official told reporters.
Children whose gender or sexual identity is rejected by their family are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide and 5.9 times likelier to report serious depression than their peers, according to data collected by the health department’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The Texas policy is currently stalled in court. One of the families suing said their son attempted suicide the day Abbott issued his order.
Hundreds of Florida health professionals have written to the DeSantis administration warning that the policy aimed at youth care “misrepresents the weight of the evidence, does not allow for personalized patient and family-centered care, and would, if followed, lead to higher rates of youth depression and suicidality.”
Biden health officials have voiced support for transgender health care and ending disproven conversion therapy, but federal agencies have not yet issued rules that would codify protections for treatment. HHS in November reversed a Trump-era policy allowing providers to deny care based on their religious beliefs and last May expanded an anti-discrimination definition in the Affordable Care Act to include gender identity.
The executive order is likely to lead to a fresh round of legal challenges and battles with governors and anti-transgender advocates advancing limits to transgender rights.
“We're prepared for what Biden throws our way,” DeSantis, a potential 2024 presidential contender, said during a press conference this month when he criticized a federal policy that would require schools receiving food and nutrition aid to include anti-discrimination language around gender identity. “We're fighting on that, don't worry.”
The Justice Department in March warned states that blocking access to gender-affirming care could violate federal law and has issued statements of interest in court battles over transgender health care limits in Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas.
Senior administration officials said the order would not necessarily increase costs for the health agency because of existing programs and directives, but did point to budget requests for fiscal year 2023 that would boost funding for mental health care.
View original post