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Brandon Presley On Trans Care Ban: ‘I Trust Mamas And Daddies’

"I trust families, I trust mamas and I trust daddies to deal with the health care of their children first and foremost, period,” Democratic candidate for Mississippi governor Brandon Presley said in Flowood, Miss., on June 16, 2023, when asked about whether he would have signed The REAP Act, which banned gender-affirming care for transgender minors. Photo by David Rae Morris

Democratic candidate for Mississippi governor Brandon Presley would not have signed legislation that outlawed gender-affirming care for transgender minors such as puberty blockers, he suggested during an appearance in Flowood, Miss., at the Mississippi Press Association on June 16.

In an earlier speech, Gov. Tate Reeves, who signed the state’s ban on care for young transgender Mississippians in February, accused Presley of dodging the issue. The Presley campaign provided the Mississippi Free Press with recordings of both speeches.

“Now, I don’t care if you’re the most passionate advocate in the world for LGBTQ policies or if you’re Ben freaking Shapiro,” Reeves said, referring to the anti-trans right-wing commentator. “If you’re a candidate for governor in the great state of Mississippi, you’ve got to take hard questions on policy.”

During a question-and-answer session with reporters after his own speech later, though, Presley, who is currently the public service commissioner for Mississippi’s northern district, said he had already answered questions from reporters about his views on the trans care ban to reporters at previous events. His campaign said the reporters who had previously asked him about trans issues did not report his responses, however.

“I trust families, I trust mamas and I trust daddies to deal with the health care of their children first and foremost, period,” Presley told those gathered at the Mississippi Press Association event on June 16. “Tate Reeves brings up this issue for one reason: It’s a smokescreen. Before this campaign is over with—if it will hide his record on corruption, if it will hide his record on $1.3 million to his personal trainer, if it will hide the fact that hospitals are shutting down—he will say that Martians have landed in Montgomery County to divert your attention. I’ll leave parents to control the health care of their children, period.”

The Democratic candidate was referring to two key issues his campaign has focused on so far: Mississippi’s hospital crisis as medical centers across the state have closed or cut services in recent years; and the state’s massive $77 million welfare scandal, in which officials diverted tens of millions in Temporary Assistance For Needy Families funds to projects the money could not legally be used for.

Presley has questioned whether Reeves had a hand in directing $1.3 million in TANF funds to his personal trainer Paul LaCoste and LaCoste’s company Victory Sports, but those accusations are unproven. State and federal prosecutors have charged multiple people in the scandal since 2020, but have not accused the incumbent governor of wrongdoing.

Trans Health Care Not ‘Experimental’

During his speech at the Press Association on July 16, Gov. Reeves accused his Democratic opponent of focusing on him to avoid dealing with issues where he might differ with more conservative voters. He also defended his decision to sign the anti-trans bill into law earlier this year.

“Mississippi voters also care about and vote their values. And that means they tend to vote for someone who aligns with them and not just for competence,” the incumbent said. “Everywhere I go in Mississippi, I get questions about one topic: It’s the news from all over the country that the lines between boys and girls and disappearing. Some of you might think that’s a good thing, and if so, that’s your prerogative. For my part, I’ve been clear. We signed a bill in Mississippi to prevent children from getting life-altering experimental procedures. We made very clear that in Mississippi, we’re going to let boys play boys’ sports and we’re going to let girls play girls’ sports.”

a photo of Tate Reeves at a desk signing a bill, with a camera in front of him
“Everywhere I go in Mississippi, I get questions about one topic: It’s the news from all over the country that the lines between boys and girls and disappearing,” Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said on June 16, 2023. He is seen here signing the REAP Act into law on Feb. 28, 2023. Photo by Kayode Crown

Later in a June 19 tweet, Reeves’ campaign account @TeamTate claimed Presley had “let the mask slip” and “came out opposing Mississippi’s laws that prevent experimental sex change operations from being performed on children.”

The treatments the governor banned when he signed The REAP Act into law, however, are not “experimental.” The most practical effect of the ban is that transgender minors can no longer access puberty blockers, which prevent permanent physiological changes that come with puberty. Puberty blockers are reversible treatments that doctors have prescribed to trans minors since at least the 1990s as well as to cisgender children who face precocious, or early onset, puberty. Numerous studies have shown that gender-affirming hormone therapies, which some older teens could opt for as they near adulthood, can reduce the risks of anxiety, depression and suicide. But those hormone therapies are now banned in Mississippi, too.

In January, PolitiFact examined claims from politicians and anti-trans activists that health care for trans minors is “experimental.” “‘Experimental’ in this context is a political term designed to create drama, confusion, and terror,” Dr. Michelle Forcier, a pediatrics professor specializing in gender, sexual and reproductive health at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University told PolitiFact. “Medical care is always being evaluated and studied so we can provide the best care.”

Reeves and the Republican lawmakers behind the ban on trans health care often focused on the fact that the bill bans gender-affirming surgeries. But while a small number of teens in the U.S. have had gender-affirming chest surgeries, even those are exceedingly rare. No Mississippi medical facilities provided gender-affirming surgeries to transgender adults or children—even before the ban.

After presenting the REAP Act on the Mississippi House floor in January, sponsor Rep. Nick Bain, R-Corinth, admitted that he was not aware of any children undergoing gender-confirmation surgeries in Mississippi. “Procedures? As far as surgeries, I’m not aware of any,” he said in response to a question from Rep. Chris Bell, D-Jackson. “As far as hormones, that is going on.”

Earlier this month, news broke that, amid mounting political pressure, the University of Mississippi Medical Center was closing its LGBTQ+ TEAM Clinic. The clinic has provided non-surgical services, including primary care, to LGBTQ+ people since 2019.

‘Pandering To Fear and Bigotry’

After right-wing activists lost the public and legal battle over same-sex marriage, many increasingly turned their attention toward transgender issues. A recent trove of leaked documents revealed that the Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based Christian legal group that also helped orchestrate the downfall of Roe v. Wade, collaborated with the American College of Pediatricians over the past decade to push what the Southern Poverty Law Center calls “anti-LGBTQ+ junk science.” The two organizations have worked together to promote anti-trans policies and ideas, including the claim that gender-affirming care for transgender minors is “child abuse,” Mother Jones reported in March.

Those efforts paid off in recent years as hundreds of bills targeting transgender adults and children flooded state legislatures, prompting the Human Rights Campaign to declare a nationwide LGBTQ+ “State of Emergency” earlier this month for the first time in the organization’s 43-year history.

A young girl with her face partially covered holds two trans flags
A child holds a pair of transgender flags while protesting against The REAP Act’s ban on care for trans minors outside the Mississippi Capitol on Feb. 15, 2023. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

As it did with Mississippi’s 2018 abortion bill at the center of last year’s Dobbs case, the ADF helped draft model legislation banning transgender children from participating in school sports teams that align with their gender identities. Officials in Republican-led states across the country have approved those sports bans in recent years, including Mississippi in 2021. Gov. Reeves, along with lawmakers behind the legislation, admitted at the time that they were not aware of any problems in Mississippi arising from transgender children playing on school sports teams.

​​“This year, we have seen a record onslaught of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation (nationwide),” Human Rights Campaign-Mississippi Director Rob Hill told the Mississippi Free Press on June 6. “Of course, we killed a whole lot of other bills, thankfully, but I think a lot of LGBTQ+ people are feeling scared right now. Frankly, they’ve become the targets of Republicans around the country and Mississippi’s no exception. … So that was obviously all part of an effort to fend off primary and general election challengers by pandering to fear and bigotry—all at the expense and to the detriment of trans youth in Mississippi.”

Federal judges have blocked similar laws to Mississippi’s REAP Act in other states. Earlier today, a federal judge in Arkansas today blocked that state’s ban on gender-affirming care for transgender minors, calling it “unconstitutional.”

“Rather than protecting children or safeguarding medical ethics, the evidence showed that the prohibited medical care improves the mental health and well-being of patients and that, by prohibiting it, the State undermined the interests it claims to be advancing,” U.S. District  Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas Judge James Moody wrote in his ruling. “Further, the various claims underlying the State’s arguments that the Act protects children and safeguards medical ethics do not explain why only gender-affirming medical care—and all gender-affirming medical care—is singled out for prohibition.

“The testimony of well-credentialed experts, doctors who provide gender-affirming medical care in Arkansas, and families that rely on that care directly refutes any claim by the State that the Act advances an interest in protecting children.”

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