Does a bill passed by the Washington State Legislature allow the "government to take minor children away" from their parents if "they refuse to agree to gender transition surgery"? No, that's not true: The legislation has no provision for removing children from their parents if they don't agree to gender affirmation surgery. The statute deals specifically with children who have run away from home.
The claim appeared in a post on Facebook on April 15, 2023. The headline in the post reads:
State of Washington Passes Bill Allowing Government to Take Minor Children Away From Parents If They Refuse To Agree to Gender Transition Surgery
This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:
(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Tue Apr 18 14:57:41 2023 UTC)
Deirdre Bowen, professor at the Seattle University School of Law and director of the Family Law Center, told Lead Stories in an April 18, 2023, email that there are no provisions in the legislation (SB 5599) for children to be removed from the household if their parents refuse to agree to gender-affirming surgery for them. She continued:
The goal of the statute appears to be the opposite. Opening a line of communication and a way towards family reunification with support services for those children who have run away from home. ...
The statute includes no language that allows for children to be taken away from the parents. Again, the opposite is true. It is about how quickly these organizations need to report the youth's presence at an organization that serves homeless youth (licensed vs unlicensed) to the parents and offer services to resolve conflict and family reunification. To repeat: only offer services. There's no mandate that any parent or child must accept such services.
SB 5599 does not grant DCYF [Department of Children, Youth & Families] the authority to remove children from their homes based upon the parents' failure to allow gender affirming care. The headline implying that gender affirming care is only about surgical transition is misleading.
Currently in state law, youth are allowed to be in shelters for 72 hours prior to the shelter staff contacting their parents; SB 5599 provides the option for shelter staff to contact DCYF and adds gender affirming care as a compelling reason for not contacting parents. Further, this bill expands on that to say that if teens are coming to Washington to receive gender affirming care there would be space for them in shelters while they get connected to our currently existing host home program.
Lippold recommended this article, "What is gender-affirming care? Your questions answered," to explain what it entails.
In her email, Bowen added that in the legislation, "there is no discussion of removal" of the children from the home:
In fact, the only way that a child gets removed from a parent's home in WA state is through a very specific set of statutorily defined circumstances where the child is found to be abused or neglected. Those terms are statutorily defined and do not include any language that says abuse and neglect includes parents who refuse to allow their children to get protected health care services as statutorily defined: i.e. certain types of gender affirming care or certain types of reproductive services. Specifically, a court order is required and a hearing to determine whether the evidence meets the standard that a child's health, safety and welfare will be 'seriously endangered' ...
Lippold said, ultimately, the statute is about the health and safety of the children, which in these cases are runaways. She continued:
There is a therapeutic aspect of gender affirming care, and this bill allows shelter providers to contact DCYF rather than the individual's parents. It is a very unfortunate truth that many transgender youth are not in homes where they are supported, and this can cause some significant emotional harm to the youths. In the worst of situations, there are youth that are kicked out of their homes because their parents refuse to let their children be themselves. SB 5599 sets it up so that youth can get access to additional behavioral health resources through case management at DCYF, and ideally get the parents involved through the process so it gives an opportunity for the family to reconcile, and ideally get the youth back home with their families. This is in response to transgender youth having the highest rates of suicide, and unhoused transgender youth rates are even higher. SB 5599 provides a temporary supporting housing option that can help save these lives.
Additional fact checks related to gender-affirming care can be found here.