BIRMINGHAM — Alabama's State Health Officer Scott Harris, who heads the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH), said his department was "appalled" by Alabama laws addressing transgender issues.

Harris offered his comments during a keynote speech at a "Substance Use and Social Justice Symposium" at the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB).

"We absolutely are appalled by some of the stuff that we've seen," Harris said in response to a question by an audience member asking what the ADPH plans to do in response to the state's restrictions on "gender-affirming health care."

Governor Kay Ivey signed legislation in 2022 that made it illegal to provide puberty blockers, artificial hormones and sex surgery operations for children under 19 years old.

"A lot of this stuff outrages all of us," Harris continued. "It's really tempting to want to lash out at people. I'm not critical of people who do that. I would say, as a state agency, that's not for us to do that … Any trans legislation, it's coming from these national think tanks that go 'what's going to bring voters out for our party?'"

When asked to clarify whether he was referring to the 2022 law, Harris told 1819 News that he "wasn't referring to any one thing in particular" and declined to comment further.

The Symposium was a joint venture of the Center for AIDS Research, the Center for Addiction and Pain Prevention and Intervention and the Social Science and Justice Research (SSJR), which are all departments at the university. 

According to the UAB website, the SSJR "brings perspectives of social justice and equity to the forefront of scientific research at UAB" and "positions UAB as a leader in research in diversity, access, and inclusion by prioritizing systemic and structural perspectives affecting underserved and marginalized communities that experience inequities, injustices, and lack of inclusion and access."

The SSJR also trains scholars "who aspire to incorporate a social justice lens into their existing research agenda."

As the State Public Health Officer, Harris oversees the state public health bureaucracy. Unlike other agency heads, he is hired and can only be fired by a board of physicians who are members of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama (MASA), a dues-paying organization with its own lobbying mechanisms.

Most of Harris's speech consisted of a broad overview of health issues facing Alabama, such as obesity and opioid overdose, as well as health statistics available to professionals from the ADPH. 

However, Harris also urged audience members to lobby legislators to expand Medicaid. He criticized lawmakers for attempting to restructure ADPH leadership so that his position is no longer appointed by the board of MASA members.

State Sen. Sam Givhan (R-Huntsville) introduced a bill this year that would permit the governor to appoint the state health officer instead. However, he claimed earlier this month that the bill had been "gutted" by "key figures" in the Legislature.

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