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Family that moved to Ohio after Missouri ban on trans care vows to fight override of HB 68 veto

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Alberto Pezzali
LGBTQ flags

Later this month, the Ohio Senate will vote on whether or not to override Gov. Mike DeWine’s veto and ban gender-affirming healthcare for transgender children.

If the Ohio Senate votes, as the Ohio House recently did, and overrides the veto, there will be one less state where families with trans kids can obtain gender-affirming care, as similar bans have been enacted in multiple states.

One family that moved to Ohio after Missouri officials banned gender-affirming medical care for their daughter is watching with disappointment as a similar bill takes root.

Nick Zingarelli is from Ohio, but he and his wife moved to Missouri in 2019, to be closer to her family. Shortly after the move, their daughter came out as transgender.

Zingarelli said they weren't expecting the revelation.

"I think it's always a bit of a shock. It's a bit of a surprise and adjusting to a new reality," he said. "But you learn, you become educated. And we did that by meeting other parents of transgender children."

She told her parents in a note and described feeling like a girl for about a year before bringing it up.

As the Zingarellis learned how to support their daughter, politicians in Missouri were drafting legislation that would make it harder for them to support their daughter with medical care.

Zingarelli wanted to preserve his right to make decisions about his daughter's health care -- following the advice of health care professionals, so he became more vocal.

"We spent the next year and a half fighting multiple battles. That was our reality of just making sure that she had basic rights, which is access to health care and being able to have the option to play sports with her friends if she chose to do so," he said.

But, he saw the writing on the wall. Missouri's ban on gender-affirming care for transgender minors and transgender girls in sports became law. And the Zingarellis moved back to Ohio to find treatment for their daughter in Cincinnati. But nearly the same bill passed by Missouri lawmakers was already being peddled by Ohio legislators under the title House Bill 68.

Bill sponsor Rep. Gary Click (R-Vickery) said the bill is necessary to protect children from medical treatments they may regret later in life, and to preserve fair competition in women's sports.

Before the vote to override DeWine’s veto in the House last week, representatives who were for and against the bill spoke up.

Click said the science was on his side and that trans rights supporters relied on anecdotes to make their points, but then told anecdotes of young women from other states who identified as trans at one point but later detransitioned.

He said the term gender-affirming care is a political slogan, not a medical term and he doesn’t believe the concept of gender identity is real.

“This is why a multidisciplinary team is not sufficient. It just means more people getting paid to say the same thing. Because that’s all they’re allowed to do is gender-affirming care," Click said.

Click studied religious education and works in Christian education and advocacy.

Rep. Dani Isaacsohn (D-Cincinnati) said gender-affirming care for minors is an important moral and philosophical question for our time, and Click isn't and shouldn't be the the moral authority on this issue.

Two opponents of Click’s bill are medical doctors, Democrat representatives Beth Liston and Anita Somani in the Dublin area. Both testified that gender-affirming care fulfills a real need and eliminating it for minors will cause harm and goes against medical advice. They said the science is on their side and claims other assertions are incorrect. Zingarelli said the claim that science is on the side of banning gender-affirming care for trans minors is absurd, that it's political gaslighting.

Opponents of the bill said Click and other lawmakers shouldn't be making these decisions. Parents should decide after considering the advice of medical doctors. DeWine said that’s why he vetoed the bill.

Zingarelli said the push to legislate transgender issues isn't a grassroots movement driven by Ohioans who saw a problem and moved to fix it.

"All you have to do is look at the title of this bill. It's called the Save Adolescents from Experimentation (also referred to as SAFE) Act. It is the exact same named bill that we fought in Missouri. With almost with similar language, similar definitions. It's pre-baked legislation that they then insert throughout the country and slap a different state's name on the top of it," Zingarelli said.

Somani said most of the testimony in support of the bill comes from people outside the state, while most of the people against it are residents of Ohio.

Zingarelli says politicians are using transgender kids as political ploys and that the bills are government overreach that seem to push a Christian nationalist view and interferes with the rights of parents to make healthcare decisions for their kids.

"The hypocrisy is just disgusting in terms of what their motives are. I think some of it is religious and ideological, although, I don't understand how they can reconcile their actions with the teachings of Jesus. It's supposed to be, 'love everyone and treat others the way that you would want to be treated,'" Zingarelli said.

Zingarelli's daughter is already receiving care, so she will be allowed to continue treatment under a grandfather clause, if the Ohio Senate overrides the governor’s veto and the bill becomes law. Youth who haven't reached a place where they can receive hormone therapy or hormone blockers won't be able to start treatment. Zingarelli said he'll continue to advocate for transgender youth.

"Despite the fact that she is protected still does not make it acceptable. Because what about all the kids that are in a different stage of their journey? What about the kids that have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria," Zingarelli said.

His daughter's treatment journey included over a year of therapy before medical treatments were offered. Zingarelli said there are misconceptions and flat-out falsehoods about how gender dysphoria is diagnosed and treated. Gender clinics already have rules to prevent surgery on minors. And both parents have to consent to treatments.

Zingarelli said claims that doctors or therapists are pressuring children to come out as transgender or telling them what their gender identity is and hiding it from their parents is a false narrative.

"And that's what frustrates me so much, is that I hear this again and again. I've testified in front of the Missouri Senate and the House, the Ohio Senate, the Ohio House. I've spoken to anybody that will listen to me. And you hear this information that is spewed as though it is the gospel truth and it is the farthest thing from it. And we confront them with information and studies and doctors and accounts from parents and children," he said.

It's frustrating, Zingarelli said. "You scream until you have no voice left and then you still see the same outcome, which is ignorance," he said.

Zingarelli said some politicians just need to see data or hear someone's story.

"But for others, it's ignorance, willful ignorance. They don't want to understand. They just want to be able to close their eyes, hold their nose, vote, and then move on without any regard to the repercussions of what is caused by their vote," Zingarelli said.

He said the lawmakers should have done what DeWine did before he vetoed the bill, which was work to understand the issue through the lens of the people affected most by the bill — transgender kids, their parents and the people who have been treating them.

"It was my hope that there would be some representatives that would see the journey that he took and maybe embarked upon a similar journey themselves for learning and understanding, or at a minimum, give some level of deference to the elected leader of this state, but instead they doubled down," Zingarelli said, calling for Ohioans to support lawmakers with constructive priorities, and who want to leave medical decisions to parents and the experts.

The Senate is expected to vote on the override later this month.

Renee Fox is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News.