Another hit for gender-affirming care as FL osteopathic board reverses itself

By: - February 10, 2023 6:52 pm

Two Florida medical oversight boards held a meeting about proposed rules for treating gender dysphoria for minors in the state on Feb. 10, 2023. Credit: Issac Morgan

Chances the state might continue to allow nonsurgical gender-affirming care for some minors under close medical oversight were dashed Friday when the Florida Board of Osteopathic Medicine rescinded its previous tentative support for the treatments.

The board had earlier voted to retain the treatments under supervision by institutional review boards at hospitals, but that was before Gov. Ron DeSantis placed Dr. Watson Ducatel on the board just recently. Ducatel, who practices in Tampa, provoked a burst of anger during packed hearing when he declared, “I motion that we remove the exemption.”

The board, already packed with DeSantis appointees, agreed, harmonizing the proposed osteopathic practice standard with one already supported by the Florida Board of Medicine. DeSantis has set out to end gender-affirming care for young people, surgical and otherwise.

The boards face additional deliberation before the new policies take effect.

During a joint meeting of the two boards, Dr. Hector Vila, a member of the Board of Medicine, tried to assuage a crowd that often booed when board members tried to justify the restrictions on treatments for minors, such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy.

“I’m sorry it’s uncomfortable. We are in an uncomfortable situation. I feel like there’s a lot of the public that thinks I dislike them. It’s not that at all. But that’s the way we are being portrayed,” Vila said.

“This isn’t about trans, homophobia; this isn’t about politics,” he insisted. “This is about the information we reviewed, the testimony we’ve listened to, and the narrow set of circumstances in which we are trying to protect the children. Given the circumstances that we have, there is not a definition to this diagnosis, and the use of these medications that have irreversible consequences. It’s not a perfect world we live in.”

But the four-hour hearing also featured passionate support for the treatments.

‘Devastating consequences’

“We opposed the proposed rules based both on the science and evidence supporting the medical necessity of treatment for gender dysphoria,” Simone Chriss, an attorney and director of the Transgender Rights Initiative for Southern Legal Counsel, told the boards.

“But also [based] on our own extensive experience working with hundreds of transgender adults and minors in this state and witnessing the tremendous benefits that access to gender-affirming care provides and the devastating consequences that can result when such care is denied,” Chriss said, adding that she found the osteopathic board’s reversal “incredibly troubling and disingenuous.”

Proponents of the ban included John Wilson, general counsel for the Florida Department of Health, who denounced the proposed clinic trial exception.

“We ultimately request that the Board of Osteopathic Medicine remove the proposed research exemption and move together in uniformity with the Board of Medicine’s proposed rule,” Wilson said.

“We make that request for several reasons,” he said, including that it would be “both illogical and confusing” for the boards to adopt rules at odds with each other.

Democratic state Reps. Jennifer Harris and Anna Eskamani, both of Orange County, attended the public hearing. Harris took to the podium to cite overwhelming support for gender-affirming care by leading medical groups.

“All of these groups support gender-affirming care. That’s quite a group of people to go against and say you don’t agree with them,” Harris said. “I’m gonna be really frank with you, as a bystander in the audience, I got to say that’s quite a powerful group and they’ve weighed in.

“And this is what they have said: Gender-affirming care saves lives, and taking that away from children is going to cause possibly suicidal ideation, possibly suicide; it’s going to cause families to leave this state in search of looking for a state that will allow them the care.”

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Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan

Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.