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Trans families are migrating to Colorado so their kids can get gender-affirming care

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

At least 22 states now ban gender-affirming care for minors. West Virginia and Louisiana did so this month. That has some families with transgender kids packing up their homes and moving to states with friendlier laws like Colorado. Matt Bloom with Colorado Public Radio reports.

MATT BLOOM, BYLINE: Hadley Charles is like a lot of 13-year-olds. She likes to hang out with friends and dabble in her hobbies, which include making colorful friendship bracelets. She's showing them off on her kitchen table in Denver.

HADLEY CHARLES: This one says Taylor's version.

BLOOM: She's felt inspired ever since moving from Oklahoma City last August. Hadley is also trans, and she says laws in her home state passed in the last couple of years made her want to stay in a room all day. They prevented her from joining girls' school sports teams, using the girls' bathroom and stopped doctors from giving her certain medications to help with her gender transition.

HADLEY: I was, like, very anxious, and I was feeling a lot of dysphoria in those moments. Like, it was just very hard to go to school.

BLOOM: Major medical groups, including the American Psychological Association, say gender dysphoria is a serious medical condition, and medications like hormone therapy and puberty blockers are safe and necessary for many trans kids. But Oklahoma's Republican-led legislature is one of almost two dozen that have passed restrictions on gender-affirming care for minors over the past two years. Supporters argue the laws protect kids. Hadley's mom, Liz, doesn't buy that. She's supported her daughter's transition, and she says Oklahoma's laws made her daughter feel depressed.

LIZ CHARLES: That's when things started to become really real for us. It was like, oh, this isn't going to get better.

BLOOM: Last August, she made the difficult decision to quit her job and move. She and Hadley picked Colorado because it's one of just 14 states that protect gender-affirming care for minors. Advocates say other families with trans kids are doing the same.

BRIANNA TITONE: We're creating refugees within our own country.

BLOOM: Brianna Titone is a Democratic state representative who helped pass Colorado's transgender care protections. She says the state doesn't track specific numbers of trans people moving in, but health care providers have seen wait times double in some cases because doctors can't keep up.

TITONE: If we can't train them fast enough, the backlog is always going to be there. And then if more people are coming, it's just going to get worse.

BLOOM: Providers in other states are seeing longer wait times, too. Doctor Carl Streed Jr. is a primary care physician based in Boston and head of the U.S. Professional Association for Transgender Health.

CARL STREED: My wait time has gone from a new patient appointment being, like, probably maybe four to six weeks out to up to eight to 12 weeks or even longer out.

BLOOM: It's hard to know exactly how many people or providers are moving because it's happening too fast to track, Streed says.

STREED: We won't know those numbers for at least another two or three years to really understand what has happened just in the past one or two with regards to these bans.

BLOOM: Families like Liz and Hadley Charles say the logistics of moving were a challenge, but it's paid off. Hadley smiles more now, and she's found an affirming doctor.

HADLEY: I was in a really bad mental state in OKC, and as soon as I moved here, it was kind of slow, but, like, I, like, felt so much better mentally.

BLOOM: Hadley's next goal - to make a few more friends and continue the transition she couldn't make back in her hometown. For NPR News, I'm Matt Bloom. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Matt Bloom
Matt is a passionate journalist who loves nothing more than good reporting, music and comedy. At KUNC, he covers breaking news stories and the economy. He’s also reported for KPCC and KCRW in Los Angeles. As NPR’s National Desk intern in Culver City during the summer of 2015, he produced one of the first episodes of Embedded, the NPR podcast hosted by Kelly McEvers where reporters take a story from the headlines and “go deep.”