Alaska Sen. Sullivan signs onto Republicans’ letter criticizing gender-affirming care

WASHINGTON — Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan co-signed a March 29 letter to the Department of Health and Human Services criticizing gender-affirming care for children.

Gender-affirming care can range from using new names and pronouns to treatments like puberty blockers, hormone therapy and surgery for transgender and nonbinary people. An HHS department report released Friday said that legal prohibitions on gender-affirming care are harmful to LGBTQ+ youth and that such treatment can be medically necessary.

The March 29 letter to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra from Sullivan, signed by 10 other Republican senators and four Republican U.S. House members, expresses concern that the HHS department is “encouraging medical providers, who should have the best interest of a child as their top priority, to perform ‘gender affirming care.’ ”

The three-page letter calls gender-affirming care “far from proper healthcare” and suggests that the HHS department’s guidance on the treatments could be “ideologically motivated.”

“Health authorities should protect children from making life-altering decisions that can irreparably harm their overall health,” the letter said. “Rather than encourage gender dysphoric children to undergo life-changing medical treatments to match their perceived ‘gender identity’ — a poorly defined concept — the federal government and the medical community should strive to ensure they have time to mature naturally.”

[Indiana governor signs ban on gender-affirming health care for minors]

Many Republican lawmakers at all levels have attacked gender-affirming care, proposing age limits and other regulations. Thirteen states have laws or policies restricting gender-affirming health care before the age of 18, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Twenty more states are considering similar bans.


A Sullivan spokesperson said the senator has heard from Alaska parents concerned that HHS policies could harm children’s health.

“Senator Sullivan believes that protecting the most vulnerable, particularly children, should be a main focus of policymakers at every level,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “This includes defending the rights of parents to make health care decisions on behalf of their children.”

Sullivan previously joined Republican colleagues on another letter last year to Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona calling to restrict transgender students’ participation in sports.

The Republicans’ March letter asks the department to provide the medical literature informing the HHS department’s support for gender-affirming care, analysis that the benefits of gender-affirming care outweigh risks, and studies that endorse gender-affirming care over a “watchful waiting” approach, among other requests.

The recent letter comes on the heels of recent pushes in Alaska to place new restrictions on sex education in schools, to require parents to sign off when a student wants to change their name or pronouns, to require students to use locker rooms and restrooms according to their “biological sex” and to restrict transgender girls from playing on girls’ sports teams.

An HHS spokesperson said the department has received the letter, and does not comment on communications between members of Congress and department.

Last week, Becerra released a statement about the importance of gender-affirming care.

“Everyone should be able to be who they are and access the care they need — but, too often, that is sadly and shamefully not the case for transgender people,” Becerra said. “The Biden-Harris Administration remains deeply committed to protecting the rights of LGBTQI+ Americans, including transgender Americans.”

“HHS will do everything in its power to protect transgender people’s right to health care, including their right to gender-affirming care,” the statement said.

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Riley Rogerson

Riley Rogerson is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Washington, D.C., and is a fellow with Report for America. Contact her at rrogerson@adn.com.