Transgender treatment, doctors threatened by new Alabama law

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) – Dr. Hussein Abdul-Latif spent the last week typing in prescription refills for his young transgender patients, trying to ensure they had access to their medications for a few months before Alabama does. prohibits it. prescribe them.

He also answered questions from anxiety patients and their parents: What will happen to me if I suddenly have to stop taking testosterone? Should we go out of state for care?

A new state law that took effect Sunday makes it a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, for doctors who prescribe puberty blockers and hormones to trans people under 19. A judge has yet to rule on a state blocking request. to apply the law.

Abdul-Latif, a pediatric endocrinologist and co-founder of a clinic in Birmingham to treat children with gender dysphoria, said he was very discouraged by the law. He said it was hard enough for families in this very conservative state to come to terms with the situation of their children. They had already faced social stigma and “the difficult decision to leave their church family or be seen as less worthy,” he said.

But gradually, he said, trans kids became more visible and there was more openness in the state for them to come out.

“They’ve always been around, but they often didn’t feel like they had the power to come out or come out to their doctors,” he said. “And now that they are, we are responding to them with legal action.”

Abdul-Latif notes that the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Pediatric Endocrine Society both endorse the treatments that clinics here and in other states provide to transgender youth.

By contrast, “the state is not just saying I’m a criminal for prescribing these drugs, but it’s saying my organization of thousands of physicians, pediatricians, and pediatric endocrinologists may be partners in this criminal enterprise,” he said. he declared.

Four Alabama families with transgender children have filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s new law as unconstitutional. The US Department of Justice has joined the lawsuit. A federal judge heard testimony this week on a request to block the state from enforcing the law while the legal challenge continues. More than 20 medical and mental health organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, also urged the judge to block the law. A decision is expected later this week.

Alabama maintains that the law is intended to protect children. “Science and common sense are on Alabama’s side. We will win this fight to protect our children,” Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said last week.

Now that the law is in effect, families wonder if they will have to leave the state and doctors worry about what will happen to their patients.

Abdul-Latif, originally from Jordan, and pediatrician Dr. Morissa Ladinsky both moved to Alabama years ago to work as instructors and doctors at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. In 2015, after seeing more families with children identifying as trans and seeking help for gender-related issues, they decided to found a clinic to treat children with gender dysphoria. They now treat over 150 transgender and gender-diverse youth.

Ladinsky, who last week testified as a witness in the trial, told The Associated Press she felt like she was “walking through a nightmare” when the Alabama legislature approved the ban. She says the measure is an unprecedented legislative override in parenting decisions and the practice of medicine.

“This is the first time I remember, at least for paediatricians, that we are literally forced to choose between the Hippocratic oath we took to ‘do no harm’ and never abandon our patients or face a possible felony conviction,” she said.

Ladinsky quickly agreed to co-found the gender clinic in Birmingham when Abdul-Latif approached her about it. She had moved to town from a hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio, which had a pediatric sexual health team and knowledgeable about treatments.

But that was not all. She had also taken a route to work each morning that took her to where Ohio transgender teenager Leelah Alcorn walked past an oncoming tractor-trailer in 2014. Leelah left a suicide note that read, “My death must mean something. … Fix society. Please.”

Some of the children Abdul-Latif and Ladinsky treated at the Birmingham clinic came to see them after suicide attempts, doctors said. A patient attempted suicide five times, he said. A 2021 survey by the Trevor Project, a nonprofit focused on LGBTQ youth suicide prevention efforts, found that 52% of transgender and non-binary youth have seriously considered suicide in the past. past year, and 1 in 5 reported having attempted suicide.

“In our minds there is no doubt that they saved my daughter’s life,” said David Fuller, whose daughter was among the first patients treated in Birmingham.

Jessica Fuller, now 22, was 16 when she first arrived at the clinic after telling her father she was trans. “The dysphoria was awful and I thought about suicide more often than I care to talk about it,” Fuller wrote in an email.

She called Alabama’s new law “a waste of time and money.”

“It’s terrifying not only for the kids, but also for the doctors and nurses who are just trying to help kids not kill themselves,” she wrote. “Are you going to arrest him for something so harmless?”

Abdul-Latif said he understands some people may be skeptical of medical treatments for transgender children.

“But making it a law and making it a crime – that’s way beyond skepticism,” he said, adding that the law “fundamentally shuts down … a very important dialogue in the country about what’s best.” and what is best for children with gender dysphoria.

“I welcome an argument. I welcome skeptical voices. I do not welcome towering voices that leave no discussion,” he said.

David Fuller, a police sergeant in the town of Gadsden, said he was angry that the law could lead officers to handcuff people he calls heroes and credits with saving his child.

“I’m a cop and I know what a crime is,” Fuller said. “I know what a criminal is. These people are not criminals. It’s political shit.

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