The Assembly’s rush job—passing the bills two weeks after they were introduced–is in stark contrast to their refusal to consider bills that would provide a middle class tax cut and invest in childcare.
Comparing being transgender to a mental illness and suggesting medical experts might change their stance in 100 years, Republicans in the Wisconsin Assembly voted Thursday to pass a series of anti-trans bills—taking them from introduction to committee hearing to passage in only two weeks.
Hours of testimony and thousands of pages criticizing the legislation did not stop Assembly Republicans from passing a ban on transgender youth obtaining gender-affirming medical care and participating in high school and college sports teams.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has promised to veto all three bills.
“We’re going to veto every single one of them (the bills),” Evers told transgender youth and their supporters who gathered at the state Capitol last week for hearings on the proposals. “I know you’re here because you’re pissed off and you want to stop it, and you will stop it, and I’ll help you stop it.”
The anti-LGBTQ bills are the latest in a growing and well-funded effort by Republican legislators and far-right activists across the country to target and oppose transgender rights, despite significant public backlash and several anti-discrimination lawsuits. More than 570 anti-trans bills have been introduced nationwide in 2023 alone, according to the trans legislation tracker.
“The only reason they’re doing this is, really, this is the dog whistle issue that we’ve seen across the country, that ignites their base,” Rep. Lee Snodgrass (D-Appleton) said on UpNorthNews Radio. “It’s certainly super harmful to bring it to the floor. These are terrible bills. And to our transgender, non-binary individuals: Please know we have your back. You belong. You matter.”
In pre-session remarks to reporters, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) compared the opposition of doctors and healthcare organizations to uninformed medical opinions from a century ago.
“If you go back in history, the way to treat mental illness 50 to 100 years ago was a lobotomy,” Vos said. “And at the time that was settled science, that’s just the way it was supposed to be. We can go back to example after example after example where the human mind has been opened to say there are different ways of doing things and it shouldn’t necessarily be a one-size-fits-all solution because we have settled science.”
Vos claimed, without evidence, that surgeries were being offered to young children who “don’t know their colors” or “what day it is,” according to a CapTimes account of his remarks. In reality, toddlers cannot get gender-affirming surgery, and nationally-recognized medical guidelines recommend that patients be at least 15 years old to receive the surgeries, and only then in special circumstances before they turn 18.
Vos’ comments also ignore the reality that medical science is much more advanced than a century ago, and disregard the abundance of evidence pointing to the positive mental health impacts gender-affirming care can have on trans youth.
Along with health organizations, sports leagues have also taken steps to accommodate trans athletes that don’t involve blanket discrimination.
The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) currently requires transgender female athletes to have undergone testosterone suppression therapy for a year before participating on a female team in a WIAA-sanctioned sport. Transgender male athletes who have started hormone therapy, such as taking testosterone, are eligible only for male teams. Transgender males who have not started hormone therapy can still play on female teams. The WIAA policy is modeled after NCAA requirements for transgender athletes.
“We call upon our Republican colleagues to stop inflicting unnecessary pain on transgender and nonbinary Wisconsinites, and to remove these bills from consideration,” the Assembly’s LGBTQ+ caucus said in a statement Thursday morning ahead of the floor votes.
More than 120 pastors and other faith leaders joined 27 churches and religious organizations in co-signing a letter of opposition to the proposals.
“Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice [affirms] the dignity and worth of the LGBTQ+ community and to oppose dangerous legislation that causes harm to members of the community,” the letter said. “When we ban transgender and non-binary children from participating in school sports, we deny them the opportunity afforded to other students to learn leadership skills, the value of teamwork, and the discipline of hard work and cooperation toward a common goal.
“But even more importantly, we send them and the rest of the community the message that trans youth are not worthy of the same rights and opportunities as other kids,” the letter continues. “We send the message that members of the transgender community are somehow less worthy of being treated with the same dignity and respect as everyone else.”
The Legislature is currently in two sessions—its regular fall session and a special session called by Evers to address his desire to pass bills that address the worker shortage, the childcare crisis, support for the University of Wisconsin System, and a middle class tax cut to be funded through the state’s record budget surplus.
Although these topics and bills to address them have been around since the start of the legislative session in January, Republicans have not yet sent legislation that they and Evers can agree on.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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