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Lawmaker compares trans health care for minors to Nazi experiments, then backtracks

South Dakota Republican Rep. Fred Deutsch, who made the controversial remarks, sponsored one of at least three S.D. bills targeting transgender youth.
Image: The South Dakota State Capitol in Pierre.
The South Dakota State Capitol in Pierre.Joseph Sohm / Getty Images

As communities around the world marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp, a South Dakota lawmaker compared doctors who treat transgender minors to Nazis, before backtracking his remarks.

“You know, I'm the son of a Holocaust survivor. I've had family members killed in Auschwitz, and I've seen the pictures of the bizarre medical experiments,” Republican Rep. Fred Deutsch, who represents a northeast swath of South Dakota, said. “I don't want that to happen to our kids, and that's what's going on right now.”

Deutsch, who made the controversial remarks in an interview last week with Tony Perkins, president of the notoriously anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council and an adviser to the Trump administration, introduced a bill earlier this month that initially sought to make it a felony for medical professionals to provide transgender health care to minors. The bill, House Bill 1057, was amended to reduce the felony penalty to a misdemeanor and passed in the South Dakota House of Representatives by a vote of 46-23 late Wednesday afternoon.

Following a backlash to his comparison to Nazi medical experiments performed on imprisoned and disabled people, Deutsch appeared to apologize earlier this week, telling The Washington Post that “hindsight is 20/20.”

“I wish I wouldn’t have opened my mouth because it takes the focus off the purpose of the bill, which is to try to help children,” he told the Post.

However, when asked by NBC News to comment on his “comparison of Nazi eugenics practitioners and the doctors of transgender minors,” Deutsch denied making such a comparison.

“There was never a comparison made between the doctors,” he said in an email. “That is totally and completely wrong. Never said it. Never thought it. Don’t think it now.”

“The comparison pertained to resemblances in pictures I have seen in the two populations,” he added. “I am NOT, NOT, Not calling doctors Nazis!”

Asked why his bill — which bans surgical and nonsurgical procedures for trans youth — specifically exempts cosmetic genital surgeries for intersex babies, a controversial practice that involves making an intersex infant’s genitalia appear more male or female, Deutsch said he didn’t “have time for a full response.”

Sioux Falls Pride, an LGBTQ advocacy group in the state, issued a statement calling Deutsch’s comparison “sensational and offensive” and one that “causes direct harm to all parties in his example and shows a fundamental misunderstanding of history and current practices by licensed medical specialists.”

No genital surgeries, for example, are recommended for transgender minors, and these are not procedures that most trans adults undergo. In fact, the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, found that just one quarter of trans people surveyed have undergone any type of surgical procedure as part of their transition — and the vast majority of these are facial or upper body procedures.

“When it comes to prepubescent kids, there is no medical intervention of any kind and the lifesaving care is about social transition,” the American Civil Liberties Union says in its page devoted to defeating HB 1057. “No young kids are being forced into treatment (except kids with intersex traits which the bill specifically allows).”

HB 1057, which is scheduled for a vote Wednesday afternoon, is one of at least three bills in South Dakota that LGBTQ advocates say targets transgender youth, like Senate Bill 88 which would require school workers to report transgender youths who come out to them, and Senate Bill 93 which would prevent the state from intervening if a parent refuses to consent to treatment for their trans kid.

South Dakota is one of at least seven states where Republican lawmakers have proposed bills this month seeking to limit transgender health care for minors. The Mount Rushmore state is just the first to have its bill advance to a full floor vote in its Legislature.

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