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MT Legislative Session's Emotional Toll on Trans Community

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Tuesday, June 1, 2021   

HELENA, Mont. -- The transgender community faced an unprecedented number of attacks from the Montana Legislature this session, advocates said.

The most notable was a bill to ban trans girls from high school sports, which supporters contended will protect girls' sports. Opponents argued trans girls out-competing other girls is a non-existent issue in Montana.

Another measure requires people to submit a court order and show proof of surgery in order to change the gender marker on their birth certificates.

Shawn Reagor, director of equality and economic justice for the Montana Human Rights Network, said surgery isn't required to update other documents, including passports and driver's licenses.

"And that's for a number of reasons," Reagor explained. "First of all, a lot of trans folks end up not getting surgery. It's a very personal thing and, in addition to that, it can be difficult to access for a number of folks."

Supporters of the bill claimed the administration under former Gov. Steve Bullock illegitimately changed the administrative rules in 2017, rather than going through the Legislature. Anti-trans legislation has been introduced and passed in states across the country.

Another measure was designed to increase legal protections for Montanans' religious freedoms. But LGBTQ groups worried it gives cover for discrimination, such as firing someone for their gender identity or sexual orientation.

Reagor called the bills a coordinated attack on LGBTQ people that had little support from the public.

"We saw thousands of comments on most of the bills in opposition to them," Reagor reported. "And we had businesses, physicians, athletes, coaches, parents and LGBTQ community members testifying against these bills."

Reagor noted there was success blocking some bills, including measures that would have prevented trans youth from accessing health care such as puberty blockers and surgery.

He emphasized the session had a high emotional toll. His group has seen an increase in school bullying, anxiety, depression, and calls to suicide crisis centers.

Because June is LGBTQ Pride Month, Reagor added it is important to let trans, non-binary and two spirit Montanans know they belong here, and also improve understanding for people outside the communities.

"So when we think about Pride, there will be a big emphasis on reaching out to individuals," Reagor remarked. "To being able to celebrate as a community, to celebrate our resilience, to celebrate all of the work that we did and the wins that we had."


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