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Molina Acosta: Proposed trans refuge bill takes a stand

The bill, if passed, would protect people who come to Minnesota for gender-affirming care. It would be one of just four of its kind in the nation.
Image by Mary Ellen Ritter

The Minnesota House of Representatives passed a bill March 24 that would protect people from out of state — including patients, their families and medical practitioners — from legal consequences for traveling to Minnesota to receive gender-affirming care.

The bill, authored by Rep. Leigh Finke( DFL- St. Paul), the first transgender person elected to the Minnesota Legislature, seeks to enshrine into law an executive order signed by Gov. Tim Walz with the same aim: to prohibit Minnesota authorities from complying with court orders, extradition orders and other enforcement of other states’ laws against receiving gender-affirming care.

Under this law, an Iowa resident could come to Minnesota to undergo top surgery, for instance, without that patient or the surgeon performing the procedure running afoul of Iowa’s statewide ban on gender-affirming care.

The bill, known popularly as the “trans refuge” bill, is Minnesota’s defiant response to transphobic legislation across the country and a principled defense of health care access to all who need it.

As of March, 16 new anti-trans bills had been passed in 2023 alone. In comparison to the flood of so-called “bathroom bills” in the 2010s, bills in recent years have taken aim at the legality of gender-affirming care.

But make no mistake — bills aimed at banning transgender people from accessing bathrooms, sports teams and other spaces of public life continue to be introduced and passed across the United States.

Kat Rohn is the executive director of OutFront Minnesota, an organization that supported the policy’s passage in the House.

“Fundamentally,” she said, “the trans refuge bill is a response to what we’re seeing around the country where states all over, including our neighbors in Iowa, South Dakota and North Dakota are introducing legislation seeking to ban gender-affirming care.”

Bills like these, in addition to others targeting trans people, have been introduced in 47 states. They follow a tidal wave of transphobic sentiment that has engulfed local, state and national politics.

Rohn said, if passed, this law would join similar trans refuge policies in three other states: California, Connecticut and Massachusetts. The laws in the latter two states are also abortion refuge laws, protecting people who seek care in Connecticut and Massachusetts in defiance of their home states’ abortion bans.

“The same folks are attacking abortion rights and trans rights together because they see it as part of the same issue,” Rohn said. “When we work together on these issues, we have an opportunity to counter that narrative and hopefully protect and expand access for people who need it.”

Minnesota stands out in its proximity to anti-trans states. Connecticut and Massachusetts are surrounded by liberal-leaning neighbors. Minnesota, though, is poised to follow California in becoming an anchor point where people from nearby prohibitive states can seek the care they need.

As bans against abortion, birth control, gender-affirming care and more continue to be introduced and passed, the path forward becomes more difficult. The conversations being had on these issues have become more alarmist and misleading.

Rohn said opponents of the House bill who spoke at the hearing presented arguments rife with misinformation.

“Trans people are a very small fraction of the overall population,” Rohn said. “Trans youth who are receiving gender-affirming care are doing so through well-tested, well-documented, well-structured, clearly developed medical plans that are built with families and medical providers together with the patients.”

Many parents of trans minors across the country have already expressed their desire to move after their home states passed laws banning their children from participating in team sports or receiving gender-affirming care. Many cite Minnesota as their destination or have already relocated here.

Over time, these bills may impact trends in higher education enrollment, as campuses are so often the first places young people move to after leaving home. Minnesota has tuition reciprocity agreements with several neighboring states, including North and South Dakota and Iowa, which have all passed bills outlawing gender-affirming care. If this bill does pass and makes Minnesota a trans refuge state, we may well see LGBTQ+ students from surrounding states and beyond seeking out the protections of life and health care in Minnesota, as well as their education.

OutFront Minnesota continues to push for bans on conversion therapy, more gender-neutral bathrooms in schools and expanded funding for HIV and AIDS prevention, among other policies. But Rohn feels good about the stand the state has taken by passing the trans refuge bill in the state’s House.

“Here in Minnesota, I think we are doing our part to try and speak strongly, both through policy but also just through community, through leadership, through our state, to say that this isn’t our values as a state,” she said.

Rohn expects Senate movement on the bill as early as next week and said Walz has already indicated he will sign Finke’s bill if it makes it to his desk.

Ultimately, Rohn said, this bill is the result of Minnesotan values and the conversations had among state residents, institutions and lawmakers.

“The focus and attention and attacks that are happening [against the trans] community are so disproportionate to the experience that we have, and so out of line with where I think most people’s values are around these issues,” she said.

Minnesota’s values set a clear standard: whatever other jurisdictions may decide, trans health care access is protected here. It’s an example other states would do well to follow.

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