WA Senate
Washington State Senate chamber in Olympia / Photo by Lincolnite (Wikimedia Commons)

New WA Bill Gives Minors Safer Access to Gender and Reproductive Care While Unhoused

New WA Bill Gives Minors Safer Access to Gender and Reproductive Care While Unhoused

Contributions from FāVS from readers like you make this news story possible. Thank you.

News Story by Cassy Benefield

The recent passage of SB 5599 — a Washington Senate bill that supports minors who need shelter and are seeking protected healthcare services — awaits Governor Jay Inslee’s signature.

Currently, if a minor arrives at a youth shelter and comes from an abusive or neglectful home, shelter staff can delay contacting parents within the 24 to 72-hour window that is required by the state.

Instead they would contact the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF), who would then help the minor access a shelter and services they need immediately, with the goal of reunifying the families if possible.

SB 5599 adds youth needing access to reproductive and gender care who are not feeling safe at home to receive those services to the list of circumstances that can delay parental contact. Situations that qualify for the delayed contact include a minor being kicked out of their home or not being supported at home in their identity and the inability to receive gender or reproductive care in their current living situation.

Bill’s Support

chandler wheeler
Chandler Wheeler (they/them), Odyssey Youth Movement Outreach Manager / Contributed

Chandler Wheeler (they/them), Odyssey Youth Movement’s Outreach Manager, views this bill as a success in term of youth autonomy and safety.

“SB 5599 allows licensed shelters to instead contact the DCYF if the youth is receiving protected healthcare (such as gender-affirming care) and expresses concern that they would not be able to access this care if they returned to their parent/guardian,” Wheeler wrote in an email to FāVS News on May 3.

Under Washington’s current healthcare access laws, minors of any age can access abortion and birth control services without adult consent.

Minors of any age can also receive gender care treatment that includes puberty blockers and/or hormone blockers depending upon the provider without adult consent as part of birth control services. And minors need to be 13 or older to get consultations related to gender identity as part of outpatient mental health treatment without adult consent.

“To be clear, SB 5599 does not amend laws regarding who can get medical care or at what age,” Senator Andy Billig’s policy staff wrote FāVS in a May 3 email. “It removes a barrier to accessing shelter. It’s important to keep in mind that these shelters are not offering medical care — they are just offering a safe space to get off the streets and to then access things like longer-term housing services, case management, potentially behavioral health services, etc.”

High Rates of Trans Youth Homelessness

According to the 2021 Trevor Project Homelessness Report, homelessness and housing instability were reported at higher rates among transgender and nonbinary youth — 38% of transgender girls/women, 39% of transgender boys/men and 35% of nonbinary youth — compared to 23% of cisgender LGBQ youth.

Statistics like these further Wheeler’s support of SB 5599.

“When taking into account the fact that a significant portion of trans youth will face housing insecurity or homelessness, allowing licensed shelter organizations to make considerations for trans youth safety is incredibly important,” they said.

Still, the opposition views the help in this bill as no help at all, but a hindrance to the child’s health and welfare.

Bill’s Opposition

Suzanne Schmidt
Rep. Suzanne Schmidt, 4th Legislative District / Contributed

Representative Suzanne Schmidt, a Republican who represents Washington’s 4th Legislative District, which covers the northern part of Spokane, voted no to SB 5599.

She says reproductive and gender care should fit the same category of the state’s prohibition of minors from smoking tobacco, cannabis and vaping pipes. The state does so because they don’t think minors are mature enough to understand the effects or the consequences of such a decision, she continues.

“This bill would allow a 13-year-old child to leave home to seek gender transition or an abortion against their parents’ will, and the State of Washington is going to step in and create a barrier between the child and the parent causing irreversible damage to both the child and the parent,” Schmidt wrote in an email to FāVS on May 3.

Sen. Mike Padden
Sen. Mike Padden, 4th Legislative District / Contributed

Senator Mike Padden, a Republican who also represents the 4th District voted no as well. He thought the bill diminished parental rights.

“The Legislature’s job should be to help bring families together, not help take them apart or to create situations in which parents are not notified about their children’s whereabouts,” Padden wrote in a May 5 email to FāVS. “This was a tough session for parents and parental rights, and the passage of SB 5599 is a key reason why.” 

Supporters Say Opposition Flows from Misunderstanding

Wheeler says that much of the opposition to this bill flows from misunderstanding what SB 5599 allows.

“This bill only applies to licensed shelters; organizations that are certified to take overnight custody of unaccompanied minors,” they said.

Andy Billig
Sen. Andy Billig, 3rd Legislative District / Contributed

Senator Andy Billig, a Democrat who represents the 3rd District, the southern part of Spokane, agrees.

“This bill is about harm reduction. We know that trans youth experience suicide attempts and ideation at much greater rates than other youth,” Billig wrote in an email to FāVS on May 4. “I supported this bill because in cases where youth have been kicked out of their homes or left because they did not feel safe and reunification is not possible or dangerous, we still have a duty to provide stability and safety.”

The bill has not been scheduled to be signed by Inslee yet. He has until May 16 to sign bills passed in this session, according to a May 3 email FāVS received from the governor’s office.

Bills scheduled for signing are posted on the governor’s website the day before.

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Sue Eggart

This was such a helpful article in providing context and diverse opinions of those who have an impact on our legislative process and those who are impacted by their decisions. Thank you, Cassy for educating your readers!

Lynn Kaylor

The opposition’s misunderstanding goes farther than just misunderstanding the intentions of SB 5599. The opponents do not understand what these cases of endangered trans youth entail, nor do they understand the nature of transness. Rep. Schmidt’s conflation of gender-affirming care with tobacco, cannabis, and vaping pipes reduces gender-affirming medical and psychological care to addiction. Gender-afirming treatments for youth pertaining to hormone-blockers aren’t addictive and are fully reversible. Neither is hormone replacement therapy addictive. Gender confirmation surgery, the one procedure with fully permanent impacts upon reproduction, never was done on minors without endorsement from a parent or guardian and very rarely has ever been approved for anyone under 18, As for transgender runaway and throwaway youth, the State of Washington isn’t creating a barrier between parent and child. The barrier already existed. It exists whenever a trans kid is expelled from the family circle. It exists when a trans kid has lost trust in his/her/their family that the kid prefers facing what’s already a very scary world. If such conditions existed for any cause, other than trans identity, I know of nobody who would consider Rep. Schmidt’s argument to be valid. It’s only given consideration today because of moral panic induced from right wing media against transgender people.

Sen. Padden’s appeal to parental rights is even less supported. Parents who expel trans kids from their home have already abdicated their parental rights. Kids who run away because they fear abusive parents more than they do homelessness would be examined as to their reasons for leaving for any other cause than parental reaction to trans identity. Cases involving trans identities should be no different. But the parental rights argument echoes an egregious tenet held among many religious parents but seldom openly admitted: that “kids are their property.” Kids are not property. They’re people deserving of being taught the ramifications of decisions of every sort. Not all parents make efforts to do this, and religious parents many times do not. Most readers have not taken time to listen to trans young people. I have. Some break down in sobs with some truly harrowing stories of religious abuse and some of them show suicidal ideation because of internal conflicts over identity, what they had been taught, and even articulation by parents that they prefer the trans child to be dead. I’m not exaggerating. Too many, in the name of religion, turn a deaf ear to gender issues when in the name of religion, they should be the first to listen with compassion.

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