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Families of transgender youth in Alabama face some difficult choices

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A new law in Alabama, which goes into effect this weekend, makes it a felony to provide gender-affirming care for transgender minors. As Kyra Miles, from member station WBHM reports, it's forcing some families to make tough choices.

KYRA MILES, BYLINE: There's a special garden in the backyard of Erin Georgia's (ph) home in suburban Birmingham.

ERIN GEORGIA: I got a blackberry bush in here that has tons of blooms, so we're going to have Jay's (ph) jam this year, I think.

MILES: It's a memorial garden for her firstborn, Jay.

E GEORGIA: Unfortunately, our oldest child, Jay, died by suicide. It'll be five years next month.

MILES: Jay was transgender and died at the age of 13. When Jay came out, the family used the right pronouns, they got him new clothes. But Erin wasn't sure about hormone treatments.

E GEORGIA: Well, let's wait a while before we do any kind of hormone treatment. I thought, you're just a kid.

MILES: After Jay's death, her second child, Alex (ph), also came out as transgender and nonbinary. This time, Erin said yes to hormone treatment.

E GEORGIA: Then you look at my other child that's had those gender-affirming treatments, and it is night and day.

MILES: Alex was assigned female at birth but came out as trans in sixth grade. After years of monitoring by doctors and psychologists, they started hormone therapy.

ALEX GEORGIA: I've been on testosterone for 2 1/2 months now, and it's going great. I'm very excited.

(LAUGHTER)

ALEX: I mean, it's been nothing but positives.

MILES: But the shadow looming over Alex's excitement is a new law in Alabama that makes it illegal for Alex to receive those hormones.

MORISSA LADINSKY: This law puts physicians in the space to have to choose between their Hippocratic oath to do no harm, to not risk a felony conviction.

MILES: Dr. Morissa Ladinsky co-leads the multidisciplinary gender health team at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospitals. She could face up to 10 years in prison. And she says if her clinic gets shut down...

LADINSKY: There is nowhere for an entire region of physicians to send their gender dysphoric youth.

MILES: Significant evidence shows that denying gender-affirming care does real harm. The LGBTQ advocacy group Trevor Project found 40% of transgender and nonbinary youth self-harm or seriously contemplate suicide. Still, Alabama politicians believe gender-affirming care for minors is child abuse. Governor Kay Ivey declined interview requests but in a public appearance said this law is defending Alabama values.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KAY IVEY: If the good Lord makes you a boy when you were born, you're a boy.

KAITLIN WELBORN: So best-case scenario, people move; worst-case scenario, children die.

MILES: Kaitlin Welborn is a staff attorney at the ACLU of Alabama. The civil rights group filed a lawsuit to block the law, saying the state's ban on trans care violates equal protection and does irreparable harm.

WELBORN: They are risking federal funding. The legislature has known all of this. They're well aware of exactly how illegal this bill is, and they passed it anyway.

MILES: A judge will hear arguments in the case later this week.

ALEX: I got a really nice dress. I'm so excited. Oh, she's going to pull it out.

MILES: Back at their home, Erin Georgia is helping 15-year-old Alex get ready for prom.

E GEORGIA: I've lost one son that died by suicide, and I have another thriving transgender child. Like, who would make my family suffer more after what we've been through?

MILES: Erin loves Alabama and wants to stay. But she says Alex will continue hormone treatments even if the law forces the family to move.

For NPR News, I'm Kyra Miles in Birmingham.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.