The protection of children is something most of us can agree on. Unfortunately, even that subject has been unnecessarily politicized in American culture because of identity politics. The majority Republican Tennessee state legislature has put forward two sets of companion bills that will help protect minors in the state. Husband and wife activists Robby and Landon Starbuck have contributed immensely to the passage of these bills through Landon's Freedom Forever child advocacy non-profit that started well before the bills were even conceived. Both sets of bills have the votes needed and are expected to pass within the next couple of weeks.
Protecting Children from Gender Mutilation Act: SB1/HB1
SB1 and HB1 are companion bills (Protecting Children from Gender Mutilation Act) prohibiting transgender youth under 18 from accessing gender-affirming health care. SB1, sponsored by Sen. Majority Leader Jack Johnson, passed in the Senate on Monday, 26-6. House Majority Leader William Lamberth sponsored the bill on the House side. It is currently in committee. The bill prohibits medical facilities, clinics, and doctors from performing procedures and prescribing hormone-altering medications related to gender identity to minors in the state of TN. "For purposes of this bill, a "medical procedure" includes "both surgical procedures and the prescribing, administering, or dispensing of a drug or device."
The bill also creates several causes of action, or penalties, if a provider injures a minor or violates the law, including the ability to sue practitioners and parents of the minor if they consented to the treatment in violation of the law. Other causes of action allow parties to sue for the wrongful death of the minor because of gender-altering treatments. "The statute of limitations for lawsuits that are based on the causes of action created by this bill is within 30 years from the date the minor reaches 18 years of age, or within 10 years of the minor's death if the minor dies." The bill effectively lays out a system for reporting violations to the TN Attorney General.
There are important penalties and amendments associated with the bill, one of which includes the prohibited use of telehealth to evade detection of treatment that would violate the law, excerpted below:
"(1) Replaces this bill's provisions that generally prohibit prescribing, administering, or dispensing any drug or device to a minor for purposes of enabling a minor to identify with, or live as, a purported identity inconsistent with the minor's sex or treating purported discomfort or distress from a discordance between the minor's sex and asserted identity. This amendment instead specifically prohibits prescribing, administering, or dispensing a puberty blocker or hormone for such purposes, subject to the exceptions specified in this bill. This amendment also prohibits a person from knowingly providing a hormone or puberty blocker by any means to a minor if the provision of the hormone or puberty blocker is not in compliance with this bill;
(2) Specifies that this bill's prohibitions against administering, performing, or offering to perform certain medical procedures on a minor, including medical procedures described in (1), apply to medical procedures that are performed or administered either in Tennessee or on a Tennessee resident via telehealth."
Obscenity and Pornography Bill: SB0003/HB0009
The other companion bills, SB0003 and HB0009, "create[s] an offense for a person who engages in an adult cabaret performance on public property or in a location where the adult cabaret performance could be viewed by a person who is not an adult." Sen. Majority Leader Jack Johnson sponsored the bill in the Senate Rep. Chris Todd was the sponsor in the House.
Sen Jack Johnson/January 31, 2023
On January 31, Johnson explained the current law concerning "adult-oriented entertainment" while clarifying the stipulations brought forward by the new bill. Landon Starbuck also testified at the hearing at around the 14-minute mark, one of several times she has done so.
The new bill ensures that harmful, adult-themed performances held in unregulated locations "must ensure that the location is age restricted and that children are not allowed to view the performance." The bill only pertains to adult "performances that are harmful to minors," said Johnson. Johnson explained both current and proposed laws below:
"As amended, (SB0003) would clarify current law by requiring that adult-oriented performances may be held in age-restricted venues and may never be held in public on public property. Mr. Chairman, under current law, businesses that predominantly provide adult-oriented entertainment must be licensed and age restricted.
To prevent children from attending and being present when adult-themed entertainment is taking place, the bill that's before you now simply clarifies that if this type of adult-oriented entertainment occurs in locations that are not required to be regulated under the current adult entertainment law because the adult entertainment is not the predominant business. Let's say, for example, if this entertainment is taking place in a restaurant, then that business must ensure that the location is age restricted and that children are not allowed to view the performance."
§ 39-16-901 is the TN obscenity statute that already defines behavior that is harmful to minors and was referenced by Johnson when he presented the bill. According to the bill's text, "A first violation of this offense is a Class A misdemeanor, and a second or subsequent violation of this offense is a Class E felony."
Citizen Activists Landon and Robby Starbuck Create Meaningful Change
While Landon and Robby did not write the child protection bills, they were absolutely instrumental in bringing the issues to the attention of Tennessee legislators. Tired of the incessant talk about the many ways childhood innocence is disregarded in our culture, Landon and Robby wrote a framework in Sept. 2022 called the Child Protection & Restoration Act (CPR ACT) to outline a path to the bills now being considered in TN.
The 5-page outline identifies in simple terms 11 problems, each with accompanying solutions related to "the sexualization of children and attacks on childhood" that plague today's society. Their outline became a key basis for the bills as they stand today. The comprehensive outline addresses the following:
- pornographic material in schools;
- gender-affirming medical treatments and therapies;
- sexually provocative adult performances that expose children to developmentally inappropriate acts;
- the mature minor doctrine that "results in some parents losing access to and control of critical healthcare" for their minor children;
- medical care for minors that is withheld because of vaccination status;
- grooming and pornographic material on social media sites;
- DEI in public schools that results in ideological discrimination against children;
- imprecise language in existing laws related to digital content that is harmful to minors
- inadequate sex trafficking laws and penalties; and
- the expansion of definitions related to CSAM (Child Sexual Abuse Material) to include CSE (Child Sexual Exploitation).
The Starbuck's have been staunch advocates for children for several years in Tennessee while also trying to effect meaningful changes nationwide. They have "been advocating for these changes for some time." Her first TN rally was on September 11, 2020. Her first medical freedom rally was in Sept. 2021. Starbuck's January 29 rally featured Chole Cole, a former transgender teen who advocates for children suffering from gender dysphoria.
Starbuck's Brand of Tenacious Activism
Starbuck explained that the first step was to prove to the public that children were being harmed. She spearheaded multiple rallies, but it was her July 22 Federalist article on the Vanderbilt Pediatric Transgender Clinics that finally catapulted her campaign into national public awareness.
Her column in the Federalist garnered attention from investigative reporter Matt Walsh with the Nashville-based Daily Wire. It moved him to scrutinize the Vanderbilt clinics exposed by Starbuck's article. She shared that Walsh "had a much bigger platform and was able to help break through to national awareness. "Matt recognized that we were doing rallies," said Starbuck, "And he had a big following, so he contacted me, and we did a rally with him. It was a final factor that made it clear we are not going to tolerate this in Tennessee." Tennesee legislators penned a letter protesting the practices at the Vanderbilt clinics. The clinic paused its child transgender surgeries shortly thereafter.
Starbuck explained the way she managed to get the issue in front of legislators:
"My organization sent independent journalists to go and document what was going on in clinics, in schools, and at drag shows with children in attendance. We began to fully expose the nature of what was happening. We put in the time and effort—the activism required for people to truly understand what was happening. Then we helped organize, not even just in Tennessee, but nationwide, what the effective response to this should be. We began to empower communities about what they need to do; what kind of codes and laws they need to look at. We began to explore where the barriers are in communities, whether it's their law enforcement, their DA, or their actual state code.
We've done a lot of work, like calling DAs, calling mayors. Putting pressure on them, finding out why they're not acting.Training local activists—like in Knoxville, on what to do to get them to act on these things. There were many who did not want to act. They were afraid they would be sued and afraid of discrimination issues. So, we began to upstream the pressure to legislators to get them to act. We needed clarity from legislators here, is this allowed in Tennessee or not?"
One of the biggest disappointments is how few show up to support her efforts with legislators. The activists on the left are cohesive and ideologically driven. "5 people showed up to support these bills the other day. There were countless who showed up to support the other side." Landon said she had to be escorted out because people were spitting on her and being very aggressive. She said, "if people on the Right acted the way the Progressive activists were, they would have been thrown out of the room."
Landon says most of the studies on gender-affirming surgeries and treatments are "weaponized with their own narratives and are not respectable studies." Life-altering surgeries and treatments are performed, sometimes without parental consent. According to her reporting for the Federalist:
"Vanderbilt Health started implementing what parents have called a "mature minor" doctrine starting in 2021. Parents told us this policy allows minors, starting at age 13, to effectively take full control of their medical decisions while keeping parents in the dark.
To greet you at some of these offices, you'll see a sign warning you, 'Parents of Pre-Teens Be Aware' followed by, 'When your 12-year-old turns 13, you will lose access to your My Vanderbilt account. You and your teen must present yourself to the front desk with your ID and fill out an MHAV 13-17 Form to retain access.'
Starbuck says that doctors and clinics are engaging in "procedural malpractice" in ways that are a grave "danger to children." Vanderbilt issued this press release disputing her claims about parental consent. Whistleblower Jamie Reed seems to confirm Landon's worst nightmare for minor children who seek help with their gender dysphoria issues. Reed is a progressive queer woman who is "politically to the left of Bernie Sanders."
Reed wrote a heartwrenching and extensive exposé of her work as a case manager at The Washington University Transgender Center at St. Louis Children's Hospital. Reed left the clinic in November because she "could no longer participate in what was happening there." Hers is an account of doctors who, in many cases, "privately recognized these false self-diagnoses as a manifestation of social contagion. They even acknowledged that suicide has an element of social contagion. But when I said the clusters of girls streaming into our service looked as if their gender issues might be a manifestation of social contagion, the doctors said gender identity reflected something innate."
Reed told stories of doctors who showed blatant disregard for the rights of parents. These patients never expressed traits related to gender dysphoria but were given hormones anyway and horrible outcomes that produced deformities, depression, regret, and in some cases, suicide. Reed's conclusion—the way the "American medical system is treating these patients is the opposite of the promise we make to "do no harm. Instead, we are permanently harming the vulnerable patients in our care."
Starbuck says that when SB1/HB1 passes, it will ensure that the clinics will close and all of these gender-affirming surgeries and treatments will end in Tennessee. Starbuck added that in all her interactions with "this community that feels they are being targeted," she has "never once heard one of them advocate for children. Not one has come forward and told me that they condemn sexualized behavior in front of children. They don't see childhood innocence as worthy of protection. For them, children are just an extension of the nuclear family that needs to be dismantled."
"And that is why," continued Starbuck, "We are seeing this push to have health centers and social-emotional learning programs in schools. In Williamson County, kids were brought to a drag show. They are always testing the waters little by little to pull the power slowly away from parents. The only way to stop it is to move from the place of talking about these bad things and really decide—are we going to act on them?— or are we going to do something about it!"