In a rarely used move, a Florida House committee on Monday gave permission to its chairman to issue subpoenas to two medical groups that support gender-affirming care for children.
The Republican-controlled House Health & Human Services Committee voted along party lines to allow Chairman Randy Fine, R-Brevard County, to subpoena records from the Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Florida Psychiatric Society.
Fine told the committee he intends to issue the subpoenas, requested by House Speaker Paul Renner, within 24 hours and ask the medical groups to turn over sought-after information before the legislative session ends on May 5.
The decision to issue the subpoenas is among a series of moves by lawmakers and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration targeting transgender people and the LGBTQ community. The House last week approved a bill (SB 254) that would make it a crime for doctors to use gender-affirming care such as puberty blockers, hormone therapy or surgeries to treat children diagnosed with gender dysphoria. The Senate is expected to pass the measure, which largely would enshrine into law state medical boards’ rules about such treatment. DeSantis has pledged to sign it.
The planned subpoenas are aimed at getting information related to guidelines established by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, or WPATH, and the Endocrine Society. Dozens of medical groups — including the two Florida groups targeted by the House — point to the WPATH guidelines, which have been revised eight times over the past two decades, to support gender-affirming care.
The request for information from the Florida medical groups comes amid legal wrangling over records. That wrangling has occurred in a lawsuit challenging the DeSantis administration’s prohibition against Medicaid coverage of gender-affirming care for children and adults.
A federal judge in February sided with the state and ordered national medical groups to provide testimony about how the guidelines about gender-affirming care were established. The groups have appealed the ruling.
In a letter to the House committee, Renner said medical groups were “fighting vigorously to avoid any meaningful inquiry or disclosure” in the Medicaid lawsuit.
“Yet it appears that the medical organizations who create and endorse guidelines on a contentious issue fraught with scientific uncertainty have gone to great lengths to avoid scrutiny and to keep the public (and their duly elected representatives) in the dark regarding the process by which these ‘consensus’ guidelines were developed,” wrote Renner, R-Palm Coast.
Fine, who also helped sponsor a measure aimed at preventing children from attending drag shows, has made blocking gender-affirming care for children one of his priorities. His committee this year held a workshop on the issue with a panel of experts who all opposed the treatment.
“The idea is to bring into the light the so-called universally accepted, unambiguous, clear-cut evidence that supports these things. Frankly, I find it shocking that we have to have a subpoena to do this. If I was someone who was so confident in my views on the science in the world, I’d certainly be happy to share it. But these organizations, for whatever reason, are unwilling to and so we’re going to make them,” he said before Monday’s vote.
The Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics had not received the subpoena Monday afternoon.
“We do not have a comment at this time. Our board will discuss how to respond to the subpoena once we receive it,” the chapter’s executive director, Alicia Adams, said in an email.
The guidelines were based on years of research and input from expert clinicians, Madeline Deutsch, who is the president of the United States Professional Association for Transgender Health and is an author of the WPATH guidelines, told The News Service of Florida.
Data that supports gender-affirming care wouldn’t convince lawmakers such as Fine to support the treatment, she indicated.
“If there were five randomized, double-blinded, controlled-prospective trials with data collected over 20 years, I still think they would be like, ‘Yeah, but how do we really know?’” said Deutsch, who also serves as medical director of the University of California-San Francisco Gender Affirming Health Program. “You have a situation where legislators have become interested in becoming scientists and getting into the weeds of directing science, and that’s not something that’s customarily done.”
The WPATH guideline “is a consensus document that involved contributions from dozens of experts from around the globe,” she said.
“And people are passing laws all over this country trying to ban this care from being offered. … It doesn’t matter what we say, you’re still going to go after us,” she said. “We have this thoroughly developed scientific document and if you’re a scientist, you would look at it.”
The committee’s action Monday gave Fine the permission to write and issue the subpoenas, but Democrats criticized the procedure.
“You’re putting our members in a difficult position to vote on something they can’t see, they can’t read, they don’t understand the far-reaching impact of,” Rep. Kelly Skidmore, D-Boca Raton, said.
Rep. Ashley Gantt, a Miami Democrat who is a lawyer, likened the committee’s search for information to what was known as the Johns Committee, a Florida legislative investigative panel that sought to expose communists and gay people at state universities in the 1950s and 1960s.
Refusing to comply with a legislative subpoena could result in 90 days in jail or a fine of up $1,000, Gantt said.
“Is this reminiscent of the Johns Committee and how they went searching for different things and to no avail? We had the opportunity to invite these organizations to come before the committee, to speak before the committee, but we didn’t do that,” she said.
But Fine argued that “there are legitimate questions about the so-called science” of gender-affirming care for minors.
“They should want to show why we’re wrong, but they don’t. And that should raise a question,” he said. “And those of you who think that the bills that we’re passing and the things that we’re doing in order to protect our children, that we’re done, I’ve got news for you. We’re just getting started now.”
–Dara Kam, News Service of Florida