Oklahoma GOP ties federal covid funds for hospital to ending gender-affirming care

When Oklahoma lawmakers met last week to distribute more than $108 million in federal pandemic relief funds for one of the state’s largest hospital systems, many expected a routine vote in favor of upgrading its Medical records and a center for cancer treatment.

Instead, Republican lawmakers added an explosive provision: OU Health would only get these funds, including $39.4 million for a new pediatric mental health facility, if its Oklahoma Children’s Hospital stopped providing gender-affirming care.

Oklahoma Governor. Kevin J. Stitt, R. signed the law on Tuesday. First time conservative state lawmakers have tied gender affirming care to the receipts of funds from American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), a $1.9 trillion effort by the government to restart the economy and strengthen medical care during the coronavirus pandemic.

Oklahoma Republicans, who were pushed into action through a campaign led by a pair of conservative podcasters, hailed the move as necessary to restrict the type of medical care for young transgender patients that has riled the party’s base this year.

“By signing this bill today we are taking the first step to protect children from permanent gender transition surgeries and therapies,”Stitt made the statement in a statement. “It is wildly inappropriate for taxpayer dollars to be used for condoning, promoting, or performing these types of controversial procedures on healthy children.”

Some advocates are concerned The Oklahoma’s latest move This could encourage other legislatures with Republican majorities, to add similar restrictions Before allocating federal or state money to publicly funded clinics and hospitals. In recent years, hundreds of anti-LGBTQ legislations have been introduced in state legislatures. At least 160 measures were reviewed this year, nearly two-thirds of which focused on transgender rights. Oklahoma was a part of this trend with a bill restricting access to transgender residents’ bathrooms and sports.

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Transgender advocates and medical experts, though, say OU Health’s facilities had been following best practices in its gender-affirming care. Officials at OU Health wouldn’t say which services would be affected. One Oklahoma pediatrician who sees transgender children in the region believes that all hormone therapy will be stopped. “In order to receive this treatment, they will now have to go out-of-state,” Shauna Lawlis said. Reporters were told by Democratic state Senator Carrihicks that about 100 children are receiving gender-affirming treatment at the center.

Parents of transgender children who are receiving care at Oklahoma Children’s Hospital say they may have to Kansas and Colorado are great places to visit. Shane Poindexter, the father of a 14-year-old transgender boy, has been admitted to the hospital for one year. He is currently receiving hormone suppression drugs.

“It is someplace they can go and be who they are and be accepted. Kids are bullies,”Poindexter said. “It was mentally destroying him. The love and affection from that place is amazing. We don’t know what we are going to do now.”

The federal stimulus provided $350 billion for state and local governments to boost their budgets. It was almost free of strings. As the economy was recovering faster than expected, the federal stimulus allowed states to use the aid in unexpected ways.

The Oklahoma legislature opened a public portal last summer that allowed any resident of the state to request discretionary funds. The state legislature received more than 1,400 proposals, which a state legislative committee reviewed and sent to the full legislature for a vote.

The state and local funds were part of a larger pool of almost $5 trillion that Washington sent out during the first two year of the pandemic. This made it difficult to track how the money was spent. Some Republican governors have attempted to use the aid to pay for tax cuts, as there are no rules about how states use their share. Governor. Ron DeSantis and other GOP legislators used federal aid interest to fund a $12 million fund that paid for the cost of flying migrants to Massachusetts.

Children’s hospitals around the country have also faced escalating threats of violence over online anti-LGBTQ campaigns targeting gender-affirming care. Other states have taken other steps to prevent public funds from being used in transgender care. Florida was one of the 10 states that blocked Medicaid coverage this year.

“It’s so outrageous and unbelievably mean-spirited,” said Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel at the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for the LGBTQ community, in reference to Oklahoma’s bill. “It’s literally about covid relief. It’s about restarting the economy.”

The push to end OU Health’s transgender care was accelerated by two conservative podcasters who last month began demanding action from legislators on Their programs and social media.

The target of their ire was the Roy G. Biv Program at Oklahoma Children’s Hospital, which for the last six years has offered mental health counseling and hormone therapy, including puberty blockers. In a few cases, it has also referred patients to surgeons who can perform mastectomies.

Mark Ousley His 20,000 Twitter followers and his Oklahoma-based listeners were impressed by his appeal. “UnWokable Podcast” in mid-September to call on lawmakers and demand OU Health’s federal money be withheld. Megan Fox, a conservative podcaster, joined him later. She broadcast the calls to lawmakers and provided scripts for her 23,000 Twitter followers.

“I am going to make it my mission in life to shame any Republican that votes for this,”Ousley wrote In a Sept. 25, tweet

Oklahoma lawmakers and transgender advocates both said the campaign had a positive impact.

“One of them spent the entire day live-streaming, calling legislative staff, asking them why they were committing child abuse,”Cindy Nguyen is the policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma. “There was a lot of inflammatory language; it built momentum.”

The bill was introduced Sept. 28 by Republicans. In a debate on Thursday, Republican lawmakers argued young patients were taking hormones that could be physically damaging — something that the American Medical Association disputes — and said all transitioning surgeries for Oklahomans under 18 should be outlawed.

“To promote and help facilitate with taxpayer money, the gender reassignment should be disallowed in this state,” state Sen. Jake A. Merrick (R) said. “I think it reflects the majority of the opinions and values held in this state.”

Several Democratic lawmakers in the House, meanwhile, yielded their time to state Rep. Mauree Turner (D), Oklahoma’s first openly nonbinary legislator who appealed to their colleagues to not be influenced by the social media and phone call campaign.

“I hope that one day you understand maybe a little bit of what it’s like to be born into a body that isn’t yours. That’s what our youth across Oklahoma are facing,”Turner said that they also added that “came out”Their mother in the second Grade. “Oklahoma has the money to take care of our people, and we do not have to wage this war against them and we don’t have to use our children, our youth, as pawns. Please vote no.”

The House passed the bill 68-23 after a 31-13 vote in the Senate. Although the votes were largely along party lines, a few Republicans in both chambers voted against the bill, either because they said the language targeting the OU Health program wasn’t strong enough or because they were opposed to accepting and doling out the pandemic relief funds altogether.

OU Health quickly reacted to the measure and stated last week that it was already in place “proactively planning the ceasing of certain gender medicine services.”

Richard Lofgren is the president and CEO at OU Health. He sent an email Friday to employees of the system stating that he knew that some legislators might introduce bills to target the transgender programs, but he didn’t know what they would do. “did not expect it to be tagged to the ARPA request.”

Lofgren also expressed dismay at the fact that the legislature demanded that the transgender medical services stop immediately.

“We were not provided with a reasonable timeline to safely transition the care of our patients,”In the email that was obtained from The Washington Post, he wrote. “For our physicians, it is morally distressing to the guiding principles of our profession and our Hippocratic oath to not be able to provide a safe transition of care, but we have to comply with the law.”

A group of Republican lawmakers — and the podcasters — are pushing for more. A group of senators held last week a news conference stating that the next step should include a permanent ban on all medical services that help Oklahoma youth with gender transitioning.

“We should have an immediate statewide prohibition on these surgeries, on these puberty blockers, on what is being done to these children,” state Sen. Nathan Dahm (R), who recently appeared on Ousley’s podcast, said at the news conference. Dahm, who previously introduced legislation on the topic, but has yet to receive a hearing, did no response to calls for comment.

Republican lawmakers continued to push for an statewide ban and appealed to Stitt to call another special meeting. “We can’t wait until session and then HOPE we can get something passed. This is YOUR moment!,” Merrick In tweet, tagging both Foxes and Ousley. The post came days after Merrick appeared on Ousley’s podcast. Merrick did not return a call for comment.

But Stitt on Tuesday said he won’t call another special session on the matter, and instead called for a permanent ban on the treatments to be passed next year.

“I am calling for the Legislature to ban all irreversible gender transition surgeries and hormone therapies on minors when they convene next session in February 2023,”He said.

Advocates argue that Stitt’s Tuesday signing of the bill sets a dangerous precedent.

“It’s about funding health care for children, and they are making that contingent on them denying medically necessary care for them on the basis of discrimination and gender identity,”Oakley said.

This report was contributed by Alice Crites, Tony Romm, and Tony Romm.

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