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Youth shelters could decline to notify parents of runaway children seeking 'gender affirming treatment' under proposed bill in Washington

Photo by Luis Soto/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Democratic lawmakers in Washington proposed a controversial bill that would allow youth shelters to refuse to inform parents that their child has run away if that child is seeking "gender affirming treatment."

Senate Bill 5599, sponsored by Senator Marko Liias (D), passed through the Senate in a 27-19 vote and is currently in the House Committee on Human Services, Youth, and Early Learning.

Under state law, homeless youth shelters must notify a parent about a runaway child within 24 to 72 hours. In that notification, the shelter must inform parents about the child's whereabouts, physical and emotional condition, and how the child arrived at the shelter.

However, shelters are not required to report to parents if "a compelling reason applies," including if shelter officials suspect the child could be abused or neglected.

The legislation seeks to carve out an additional "compelling reason" for homeless youth shelters to decline to notify parents, including if the child is seeking "gender affirming treatment" and "reproductive health care services," such as abortion.

According to state law, gender affirming treatments include breast augmentation, facial feminization surgeries, facial masculinization surgeries, genital modification, hairline modification, hair removal, hysterectomy, tracheal shave, rhinoplasty, liposuction, mastectomy, penile implant, and voice modification.

The bill's supporters claimed that not affirming a child's gender identity creates an "unsafe" home environment for the minor.

Planned Parenthood Greater Northwest Educator Sara Kukkonen, a supporter of the proposal, testified before the House Human Services, Youth, and Early Learning Committee last week regarding the difference between an "unsafe" and "unsupportive" home.

"Unsafe can certainly imply violence, and I think that unsupportive can lead to abuse. Maybe not everyone would consider [it] unsafe, but unsupportive households can have a severe impact on someone's mental health. I don't always think they mean the same thing in every context — in this case they can lead to the same outcome," Kukkonen stated.

Opponents of the proposed legislation argue that it would undermine parental rights and allow for surgeries that could have irreversible impacts on a child's body.

Additionally, the bill never requires youth shelters to notify parents, even after the child has already received the potentially permanent "gender affirming treatment."

While Democratic lawmakers claimed that the legislation is intended to protect children who have been "rejected or abandoned," the bill would not require proof or suspicion that the parents have abandoned the child.

A proposed amendment to the legislation would have required the child to receive counseling services before undergoing medical procedures; however, that proposal was rejected. A second proposal would have limited "gender affirming care" to counseling services, which was also rejected.

"We need to focus on the essential needs of the young person, ensure they're getting the care they deserve, and then focus on the important [family] reunification process and the supports we have to accomplish that," Liias said.

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