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The Fight Over Child Mutilation in Oklahoma

Oklahoma Republicans refuse to take an easy win on stopping gender transition for minors. Why?

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Governor Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma at the White House, June 18, 2020. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Who wants to allow kids to undergo gender reassignment surgery more: Democrats or Republicans? In Oklahoma, it is not as straightforward a question as it appears.

On October 4, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed Senate Bill 3XX into law, which grants approximately $109 million to the state’s University Hospital Authority. Some $39 million of those funds were appropriated for “behavioral health care for the children" of Oklahoma under the condition that the health system’s facilities refuse to perform gender reassignment surgeries for minors.

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But four Republicans protested the successful legislation. The four legislators have said they voted no out of frustration for their party’s subsequent inaction on the gender surgery issue. Sen. Warren Hamilton, for example, one of the four, introduced legislation in February of last year that would have banned the procedures outright for every Oklahoman under the age of 21, with violations carrying a penalty of three years to life in prison. Committee chairs never allowed the bill to be heard.

Hamilton said he thinks Bill 3XX doesn't go far enough in some places and is wrong-headed in others. The law, which does nothing to regulate gender reassignment surgeries for minors at hospitals outside of the University Hospitals Authority and Trust, earmarks funds for the continuation of the health system's behavioral health care services and mental health counseling. These services are delivered through what Oklahoma Children’s Hospital calls the Adolescent Medicine Roy G. Biv Program, which provides an “interdisciplinary team of highly trained specialists who serve the mental health, nutritional and medical needs of all LGBTQ youth.” The program's "gender-affirming treatment & services" includes "discussing concerns or questions about gender" and "assisting with legal name or gender marker changes."

Sen. Greg Treat, president pro tempore and highest ranking member in the senate and the primary sponsor on the legislation, said at a September press conference that the "investment in children's behavioral health is something that is going to be one of the biggest achievements that we've been able to do in my legislative career."

Hamilton, on the other hand, said, “This is in your face. This is indoctrination. Whether or not you’re using the money to actually mangle these kids, they’ve told us what their agenda is, and yet we still trust them with the mental health of our children?”

Treat said at the same press conference that he was familiar with the more aggressive legislative propositions that would have banned the practice, but that he was "not intimately involved" with the decision not to bring the bills to a committee vote during the regular session.

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After the governor signed S.B. 3XX, he made a direct plea to the Republican caucus in the legislature, which holds a supermajority in both chambers: “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.”

Sen. Nathan Dahm, another "no" vote on the successful legislation, who has been in the Senate since 2012 and faces a term limit in 2024, would support such a measure, but does not have confidence in his party’s leadership: “For them to promise that we’ll do something next year when we’ve had the opportunity to do it for three years, and having served with them, with most promises that have never actually come to fruition, I don’t put any credence behind their word that they’ll get it done next year.”

The senator was part of a failed effort to extend the special session of the legislature so that the more aggressive legislation could be taken up before this year's gubernatorial election. Dahm had a noteworthy theory for why his party’s leadership has been kicking the can down the road: “I think that Senate leadership actually is trying not to give [Stitt] any more wins, because they’d rather have a Democrat that they can do veto overrides on so that they get the victory and they get the publicity, rather than having a strong governor lead the charge that steals their thunder and steals their potential media spotlight.”

Governor Stitt, who signed a statewide ban on abortions with exceptions for rape, incest, and to save the life of the mother before the Dobbs decision was announced, is down in recent polls on his re-election bid: one poll has him one point behind, while another places him seven points behind Democrat opponent Joy Hofmeister.

Alex Gerszewski, communications director to Treat, told The American Conservative that Dahm's allegations are “not true.” Gerszewski directed TAC to the senator's endorsement of Stitt from April of this year. Other members of party leadership, however, including Majority Floor Leader Sen. Greg McCortney and Majority Whip Sen. Rob Standridge, are not on the list of initial endorsements, and neither member could be reached for comment.

The Stitt campaign also could not be reached for comment. It is perhaps worth asking why Stitt is facing serious opposition in a state that he won by 12 points in 2018 and that President Trump won by 33 points in 2020. One factor could be that his opponent, Hofmeister, only changed her party affiliation last year so that she could handily beat a self-proclaimed democratic socialist in the primary and run a moderate campaign in the general election. Another could be the enthusiastic support that the state's tribal nations have thrown behind Hofmeister. Yet another could be the possibility that Dahm is right: that Senate Republican leadership are indifferent, or perhaps highly partial, to the results of the election.

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