Republican lawmakers advanced a bill on Thursday intended to limit drag shows in Kentucky, leading to one senator, Karen Berg, invoking the memory of her late transgender son, transgender rights activist Henry Berg-Brousseau, to shame GOP lawmakers for the bigotry their votes enabled.
Under Senate Bill 115, drag shows would not be allowed on public property or in places where children could glimpse a queen.
During a hearing on Thursday, Republican lawmakers continued to dismiss the concerns of LGBTQ+ people who urged them not to move forward with their prejudice, but those calls fell on deaf ears, northern Kentucky news site Link NKY reports.
GOP lawmakers settled on a bill that did not include a thousand-foot distance requirement for how far from homes, schools, and parks any performance conceivably considered drag would be illegal.
Democratic Kentucky state senator Karen Berg, a physician, and mother of Henry Berg-Brousseau, a transgender man who worked as deputy press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign and died by suicide recently, invoked her son's memory to explain her no vote.
"I really do want to apologize for the hate that you have received," she said to witnesses who had spoken to the GOP-led panel. "Because the hate you give is the hate you get."
She continued, "I can tell you from my personal experience on the day I buried my child here in Kentucky — my proud trans child — the last thing he did at work before he went home and killed himself was to send out a press release to the country from the Human Rights Campaign, warning us of what was coming."
Berg added that before she could make it home from the cemetery after burying her son in December, she'd received hate messages from those who claimed she had killed her child.
Berg-Brousseau was 24.
"The hate that is coming out of this country is disgusting. It is scary. It is undemocratic, and [this bill] is unconstitutional," she said.
Republicans disagree and claim that they are the saviors of kids. They argue that the existence of transgender people and acceptance of trans kids is a manifestation of a "woke agenda" being pushed by liberals.
"This bill is not anti-LGBTQ," Republican Sen. Lindsey Tichenor, the bill's lead sponsor, said, according to an Associated Press report. "This bill is pro-children. For some reason, people want this type of content in front of children. And I would dare ask, why? Why do we need to sexualize our children?"
A violation of the bill's provisions could result in losing a business license and an alcohol license. In addition, first-time violators would be punished with misdemeanor charges, while repeat offenders would be charged with felonies.
"This bill not only compromises or asks me to explain my humanity, but it also brings into question my livelihood," drag performer Poly Tics told senators before they voted to advance the measure.
In February, Berg made an impassioned plea before her colleagues, asking them to recognize that transgender people are not a philosophical debate.
"There is no religious or ideological conflicts with children being trans. You need to find it for me in your Bible. You need to show me where this is such a deeply held belief that it is incontrovertible in your mind," Berg said.
"These are the children that have trouble fitting in, the ones who are just a little different from their peers, the ones who historically we have allowed to be bullied—half of the suicides in age 15 to 24 years of age in this country. The second leading cause of death in that age group is from our vulnerable, marginalized children," she said.
"Either you believe that trans children do not exist, or you believe that trans children do not deserve to exist. I can tell you, these children exist," Berg concluded.
The radical Republican-controlled state legislature in Tennessee recently passed, and on Thursday, Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed into law an almost identical law criminalizing drag queens, making it the first state in the nation to do so.
In their criticism of these laws, Democrats, LGBTQ+ advocates, and critics all point out that the words of these measures are intentionally vague in such a way as to restrict the lives of transgender people. While the target appears to be drag queens today, activists warn that Republicans actually want to legislate transgender Americans out of existence.
Far-right activists and GOP politicians across the country falsely claim that drag queens are "grooming" or "sexualizing" children at kid-friendly Drag Queen Story Hour events in libraries or at family-friendly drag brunches, popular at restaurants on weekends nationwide.
On Thursday evening, after the vote, Berg tweeted a warning to supporters of LGBTQ+ rights.
"Total ban on all gender affirming care for minors bill passed the KY House today. Another Senate Bill essentially makes it illegal for a man to dress as a woman or a woman as a man in public spaces. Guys, pay attention! The hate is being kindled. Our work is not over!!!" she wrote with a clip showing her speech from earlier that day.
If you are having thoughts of suicide or are concerned that someone you know may be, resources are available to help. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 is for people of all ages and identities.
Trans Lifeline, designed for transgender or gender-nonconforming people, can be reached at (877) 565-8860. The lifeline also provides resources to help with other crises, such as domestic violence situations.
The Trevor Project Lifeline, for LGBTQ+ youth (ages 24 and younger), can be reached at (866) 488-7386. Users can also access chat services at TheTrevorProject.org/Help or text START to 678678.