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How activists changed Republican lawmakers’ minds & killed an anti-transgender bill

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A bill attacking transgender youth in Montana was stopped yesterday after equality advocates were able to change the minds of four Republican lawmakers at the last minute.

“The trans and nonbinary community is strong and so are our families, friends and supporters,” trans advocate SK Rossi told the Montana Free Press.

Related: House Republican introduces anti-trans legislation that could lead to genital exams for school girls

Monday morning, H.B. 113 was approved by the state House with a narrow, partisan 53-47 vote. The bill would ban doctors from providing gender-affirming healthcare to transgender minors, including puberty blockers, which have to be administered during puberty in order to be effective.

But in the third reading of the bill on Tuesday got a vote of 49-51 as several Republicans changed their votes.

Montana House Majority Leader Sue Vinton (R) said that she changed her mind – and her vote – after meeting with the parents of transgender youth.

“[They] were quite passionate, as you can imagine, about the need to allow parents to make these personal decisions for their families,” she said. “And I learned, also, that it’s a continuum of care. The younger child doesn’t go into an immediate course [to transition]. It’s much more gradual and it’s a much more involved decision-making process.”

State Rep. Denley Loge (R) said that the issue for him was that the government was interfering with medical professionals’ decisions. So he changed his vote too.

“There was just too much stepping in,” he said. “Plus, there are some family values that need to be considered on the parents’ side.”

Two other state Republicans changed their votes, which was enough to kill the measure for now. Proponents of the bill can still ask for another full house vote on the bill.

A second bill that Montana passed in a second reading on Monday was H.B. 112, which would ban transgender girls and women from competing in school sports as their gender. It passed by a much wider 62-38 margin.

The other bill shows the limitations of using arguments about parental rights, medical privacy, and personal autonomy to advance transgender and LGBTQ liberation. While some Republicans will actually vote against anti-LGBTQ measures on the principle that people should be left alone, they don’t extend that reasoning to providing equal protection under the law or equal access to public services like education.

It’s similar to how gay, lesbian, and bisexual advocates fought against sodomy laws by using individual liberty arguments with some effectiveness, even in red states. Montana’s own sodomy law was overturned by its state supreme court in 1997 in a 6-1 decision – years before the U.S. Supreme Court would do so in Lawrence v. Texas.

The state’s high court cited people’s “expectation of privacy in their sexual activities” in their decision. In 2013, the state legislature repealed the unenforceable measure.

But Montana still hasn’t passed civil rights legislation to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, even in 2021. The idea that the government should leave LGBTQ people alone appears to be more convincing to some Republicans than the idea that the government should actively help LGBTQ people, even if it’s simply by banning discrimination or allowing people to play school sports.

Advocates of equality, though, are taking their victories where they can get them.

“I hope we can move on,” said Montana House Minority Leader Kim Abbott (D) about the possibility that H.B. 113 will come back for another vote.

H.B. 112, the sports bill, is up for a third reading today. It is expected to pass again.