Six hundred UF community members signed a letter opposing a Department of Health guideline endorsed by a UF professor that prohibits transgender people under 18 from adopting characteristics matching their gender identity.
The guidelines would bar access to puberty blockers, hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery. They were backed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and State Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, who is also a UF College of Medicine professor.
Ladapo has faced criticism at UF due to his controversial views on COVID-19 measures, which were critical of mask mandates, lockdown restrictions and vaccines. Many believed he was not properly vetted and that his tenure was rushed.
He said children should not be in the position to make life-altering decisions about their gender or sex. The guidelines recommend access only to social support and counseling. They do not apply to those with genetic sex development disorders such as irregular development of internal and external genatalia.
“The federal government's medical establishment releasing guidance failing at the most basic level of academic rigor shows that this was never about health care,” Ladapo said in a press release. “It was about injecting political ideology into the health of our children.”
Nine members of the UF wildlife ecology and conservation department’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access Committee wrote a letter criticizing the guidelines and called upon the UF community to advocate for transgender healthcare access for children. It was emailed to members of the UF community Apr. 29.
The letter stated that Ladapo was cherry picking evidence and chose information aligning with his political ideology rather than recognizing current transgender healthcare and its importance to children’s mental wellbeing.
Ethan White, a 45-year-old member of the wildlife ecology and conservation department’s IDEA Committee, said the guidelines are constructed in a way that neglects scientific suggestions and policy.
“Because this was led by a University of Florida faculty member, I think it’s really important for us to all step up and communicate that this is not the way that we should be going about setting policy,” White said.
White has a child who is a member of the LGBTQ community. He said the DOH guidelines go to an extreme, advising transgender adolescents not present themselves as the gender they identify with. The guidelines also go against general recommendations on allowing adolescents access to medications that stop the production of male and female sex hormones at the appropriate age and stage of life, he said.
If handled incorrectly, he said the guidelines could impact LGBTQ healthcare.
Olgert Bardhi, a 29-year-old recent UF College of Medicine graduate, said he wasn’t surprised the guidelines were released. He felt they were politically motivated and not based on established medical studies.
“When I was reading it, I thought to myself that they tried to somehow do the wording so they sounded like it was based on science, but it was not,” he said.
He said the DOH guidelines go against recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association, which both support gender-affirming care.
Bardhi wanted to sign the petition as a future medical provider. He said he hopes most physicians continue to follow the academy’s guidelines — instead of the DOH guidelines — to provide the best care for their adolescent patients.
“We’re taught ‘Do no harm’, but if you are not able to provide these forms of care for the patients, which is in their best benefit, then I think that it’s going to at least make physicians think twice about what they’re doing and if they are able to provide the care,” Bardhi said.
Lameace Hussain, a 31-year-old Ph.D. student in the Department of Wildlife and Ecology Conservation, also signed the letter. They came out as non-binary in their late 20s while living in Washington and did not get the support they needed from doctors and their community until later in life. Torn on what gender they were, Hussain struggled with depression and suicide attempts.
“It was incredibly confusing and I had no idea what was going on, and I always thought there must have been something wrong with me,” Hussain said.
They said the new DOH guidelines create discomfort in the LGBTQ+ community at UF and in Gainesville — a fairly queer-friendly city.
“I think that there’s a looming cloud that they go after kids, and eventually it’s going to kind of work its way up,” Hussain said.
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