New WA Bill Gives Minors Safer Access to Gender and Reproductive Care While Unhoused
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cassy (pronounced like Cassie but spelled with a ‘y’) Benefield is a wife and mother, a writer and photographer and a huge fan of non-fiction. She has traveled all her life, first as an Army brat. She is a returned Peace Corps volunteer (2004-2006) to Romania where she mainly taught Conversational English. She received her bachelor’s in journalism from Cal Poly Technical University in San Luis Obispo, California. She finds much comfort in her Savior, Jesus Christ, and considers herself a religion nerd who is prone to buy more books, on nearly any topic, than she is ever able to read. She is the associate editor of FāVS.News.