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Kentucky legislature passes anti-transgender bill that bans gender-affirming medical care

J. Tyler Franklin | LPM

This story mentions suicide and mental health issues. If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, you can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by phone at 988, or online at https://988lifeline.org/.

If you’re looking for transgender peer support, you can reach Trans Kentucky at 859-448-5428 or online at transkentucky.com. You can also contact the Trevor Project, which provides free, confidential counselors who specialize in helping LGBTQ youth.

The Republican-led Kentucky legislature on Thursday swiftly passed a new version of a ban on gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth, despite consensus from major national and state medical associations that these services should not be prohibited.

The legislation also sets new rules for public schools that allow teachers to misgender trans students and, in a move similar to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, generally would prevent public schools from allowing educational presentations that study gender identity or sexual orientation.

Democratic Sen. Karen Berg of Louisville said the legislators who voted for this bill ignored medical experts. Her trans son, 24-year-old Henry Berg-Brousseau, died by suicide in December.

“You had time to get yourself educated on this subject,” she said as the Senate voted Thursday. “This is absolute, willful, intentional hate.”

For much of this year’s legislative session, conservative lawmakers have been divided over how far such a ban should go. An omnibus anti-trans measure stumbled in the Senate earlier this weekas Republicans split over whether to adopt a scaled-back version that would have let trans kids get treatments that delay puberty with a parent’s permission.

But on Thursday, the Republican supermajorities in the Kentucky House and Senate quickly joined forces to rapidly approve a version that bans those treatments, as well as hormone therapy and surgery, for trans people under 18 years old.

It also added a new requirement that would force public school districts to adopt policies that prevent trans students from using bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity.

Accessing gender-affirming care already is difficult for trans minors and adults, and it’s extremely rare for a minor to receive any form of gender-affirming surgery.

Experts say the decision for a trans person under 18 years old to receive puberty blockers or hormone therapy is reached through careful consultations between the child, their parents and their health care providers.

Under the bill the legislature passed Thursday, doctors could lose their medical licenses if they provide those services. Those who receive gender-affirming medical care as minors would be allowed to sue providers until age 30, under the new version of the proposal.

The House Education Committee added the language, and several other anti-trans provisions, to Republican Sen. Max Wise’s Senate Bill 150, which initially focused on letting public school teachers misgender trans students.

The update includes a ban on treatments that delay puberty, as well as hormone therapy and surgery, for trans people under 18 years old. Doctors could lose their medical licenses if they provide those services. Those who receive gender-affirming medical care as minors would be allowed to sue providers until age 30, under the new version of the proposal.

The Republican supermajorities in the Kentucky House and Senate were up against a midnight deadline to preserve their ability to override a veto by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.

With time running out before Beshear’s 10-day veto period, the House Education Committee unexpectedly met Thursday afternoon, giving mere minutes of advance notice to the public that it would do so.

Republicans on that committee quickly greenlit the new SB 150 after two trans Kentuckians testified before them and urged them to reconsider because it will harm trans kids.

“Please, please, I can’t hear from another parent that they think their kid is going to die. I can’t do it anymore,” Mason Chernosky, a trans man, told lawmakers. “Please, please don’t pass this!”

Surveys indicate young trans and nonbinary people experience suicidal thoughts at especially high rates. And research shows trans youth who've received gender-affirming care – including treatments SB 150 would prohibit – have seen reductions in such thoughts and in depression.

Soon after the House Education Committee met, the House voted 75-22 Thursday afternoon to pass the new version of SB 150. Almost every Republican voted for the bill, but only one Democrat – Rep. Ashley Tackett Laferty of Martin – did.

Later that afternoon, the Senate met and approved the updated bill in a 30-7 vote, with all but one Republican – Sen. Danny Carroll of Benton – voting for it and all but one Democrat – Sen. Robin Webb of Grayson – voting against it.

Republican Sen. Whitney Westerfield of Fruit Hill said he reluctantly was voting for SB 150.

He worried an earlier version of the proposed ban would prevent doctors from speaking openly with their trans patients. But he said that language wasn’t in the bill they ultimately approved.

“I don’t agree with transition. I don’t understand it. But doctors should be able to answer questions about it and I’m glad now that they can,” Westerfield said.

Republican lawmakers’ actions Thursday come at a time when some conservative politicians and anti-LGBTQ groups are pushing to restrict the ability of LGBTQ people – especially those who are transgender or nonbinary – to participate in public life.

GOP Rep. David Meade of Stanford publicly said they modeled the section of the new SB 150 that bans gender-affirming medical care on legislation from South Dakota.

Meade also said Thursday that he wouldn’t be promoting this bill if “I didn’t believe in my heart” it was the right thing to do.

Beshear’s veto period begins Friday, and the governor is expected to reject SB 150. The legislature’s Republican supermajorities will have an opportunity to override any such veto before the annual legislative session ends March 30.

If that happens, the bill may end up before a judge.

The ACLU of Kentucky said in a statement Thursday night, “If this unconstitutional measure becomes law, our legal team stands ready to see the commonwealth in court.”

This story has been updated.

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Morgan is Louisville Public Media's health reporter. Email Morgan at mwatkins@lpm.org.
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