Home>Highlight>Could N.J. become a haven for transgender health care?

State Sen. Andrew Zwicker at Gov. Phil Murphy’s FY2024 Budget Address. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe).

Could N.J. become a haven for transgender health care?

Zwicker-sponsored bill would add significant protections for gender-affirming care

By Joey Fox, March 17 2023 4:46 pm

Over the last year, one of the major focuses for Republican-led state governments across the country has been to restrict gender-affirming care, a broad term for medical care for transgender people. Many states have instituted bans on medical transitioning for minors, and some have even proposed doing the same for adults.

State Sen. Andrew Zwicker (D-South Brunswick), alongside a few of his Democratic colleagues, wants New Jersey to go in the opposite direction.

Under a bill Zwicker introduced in the State Senate last month, transgender health care performed in New Jersey would gain a number of new protections. The bill prohibits New Jersey’s officials from cooperating with other states’ anti-transgender laws – preventing extradition, cooperation with subpoenas, and the sharing of medical records – and also gives state courts increased powers over child custody when gender-affirming care is involved.

Such a proposal, which Zwicker said originated from one of his constituents, has recent precedent on a different issue. Last summer, after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion, Gov. Phil Murphy signed two bills protecting abortions performed in New Jersey; much of the same language is present in Zwicker’s bill.

When Democrats were in the process of passing the two abortion bills, they promoted New Jersey as a safe haven for those seeking reproductive health care. Now, Zwicker – alongside Assemblymembers Sadaf Jaffer (D-Montgomery), Mila Jasey (D-South Orange), and Raj Mukherji (D-Jersey City), who are sponsoring the Assembly version of the bill – wants the state to serve the same purpose for transgender people.

“We’ve read the headlines about what’s happening in other states,” Zwicker said. “My purview is New Jersey, so I can say that, within our boundaries, we are going to protect all New Jerseyans from the actions of other states.”

Christian Fuscarino, the executive director of the LGBTQ group Garden State Equality, said that his organization has worked with Zwicker and other legislators on trans-focused bills, and that he hopes legislative leaders move Zwicker’s bill forward.

“Given what’s taking place across the country, it should be viewed as an urgent bill item,” he said. “For New Jersey to step up and say, we are a state that will welcome you and ensure that you’re protected and safe, I think speaks to our values.”

So far, though, there’s been little action on the bill; Zwicker said that there hasn’t been any opposition from within the Democratic caucus, but many don’t see it as a top priority. The same seems to be true for a number of other bills regarding transgender New Jerseyans that have languished in obscurity this session.

One proposal from Assemblywoman Shanique Speight (D-Newark) would standardize protections for transgender prison inmates; another from Jasey and Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (D-Trenton) requires school districts to adopt policies on the needs of transgender students. And several different bills would create data collection systems for statistics on LGBTQ people in New Jersey, something Fuscarino said is another top priority.

“[Sexual orientation and gender identity] data is important at a state level, because LGBTQ people aren’t counted in the federal census,” he said; collecting more data would help the state “better understand the population size and the needs of the population.”

If any of these bills, particularly Zwicker’s, starts moving through the legislative process, it’s likely that there will be significant pushback from conservatives. Some Republicans have introduced their own legislation to limit transgender health care for New Jersey minors, and State Sen. Ed Durr (R-Logan) – the sponsor of one such bill – explicitly criticized Zwicker’s legislation on Twitter.

“This is exactly why I introduced S3076, to #ProtectOurChildren!” Durr said of Zwicker’s bill. “A child cannot nor should not have life-[altering] treatments until they are adults. Then, they can make their own decisions!”

Zwicker said his office has already been inundated with angry callers echoing points like Durr’s, and the more prominent his bill becomes, the more that type of reaction is likely to increase. He insisted that won’t deter him.

“This particular issue has clearly become a proxy for the culture wars that are going on,” Zwicker said. “If it’s within my power as a New Jersey legislator to protect and do proactive legislation on behalf of vulnerable communities, then that’s what I’m going to do.”

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