Republican legislators in Kentucky have pushed through a bill banning gender-affirming health care for transgender minors and limiting school instruction on LGBTQ+ issues — all while a state senator is mourning the death of her trans son.
One bill to this effect, House Bill 470, was “being slowly killed by Republican discord” when lawmakers adjourned Wednesday night, The Courier-Journal of Louisville reports. But Thursday, legislators added the health care ban to another measure, Senate Bill 150, and it passed both the House and Senate by Thursday evening.
Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, is expected to veto the bill, but the legislature will come back into session in late March and could override his veto.
Democratic Sen. Karen Berg cast her chamber’s first vote on the bill, a definite no. “This is absolutely willful hate for a small group of people that are the weakest and most vulnerable,” she said.
Her trans son, Henry Berg-Brousseau, who had worked for the Human Rights Campaign, died by suicide in December. As voting continued, she alternated “between nodding with some points and slowly crying,” The Courier-Journal reports.
House Bill 470 originally contained a ban on all gender-transition procedures for minors, with doctors to be punished by revocation of their license. Wednesday, Republican Sen. Danny Carroll filed an amendment to the bill, banning gender-affirming surgery — almost never performed on minors anyway — but allowing young people to receive puberty blockers. The Senate approved the amendment but paused debate on the bill overall.
The bill was also Kentucky’s version of “don’t say gay or trans” legislation, banning school instruction regarding sexual orientation or gender identity at all grade levels.
Then Thursday, in a hastily called committee meeting, Republicans added a ban on all gender-affirming care for minors plus the “don’t say gay or trans” provision from HB 470 to SB 150, which originally had been limited to allowing teachers to ignore students’ preferred pronouns. The GOP legislators additionally put language on school restroom use into SB 150, requiring school districts to “at a minimum” bar trans students from using the restrooms comporting with their gender identity. And the measure requires school personnel to tell parents about confidential discussions with students about sexual orientation or gender identity, essentially forcing the outing of these students.
In the House, “nearly every Democrat spoke, often at length, against the bill,” The Courier-Journal reports, but it passed by a vote of 75-22, largely along party lines. It then passed 30-7 in the Senate, again mostly on party lines.
Civil rights groups are denouncing SB 150. Republicans’ rushed process of getting the bill through “is the cheapest trick they can pull,” Chris Hartman, executive director of the Fairness Campaign, Kentucky’s statewide LGBTQ+ rights group, said as the committee meeting ended, according to The Courier-Journal.
Hartman also issued a statement in a joint press release with the Human Rights Campaign, saying, “Shame on our commonwealth’s legislature for deploying cheap tricks to attack our trans kids today. The Kentucky General Assembly’s roller-coaster ride on the Anti-Trans Omnibus Bill is a perfect example of what happens when the party of small government runs a measure that couldn’t be a more obvious government overreach. SB 150 will take away parents’ rights, plain and simple. And while the majority caucus struggled to come to consensus on the issue, Kentucky voters were clear that the government has no place in between a parent, their children, and their doctors.
“The majority party has spent more time debating anti-trans laws this session than addressing childhood poverty, housing insecurity, and disaster relief combined. The blood of traumatized transgender children will be on their hands, and they will be judged harshly by history and our future generations. But make no mistake, LGBTQ+ Kentuckians will not back down, will not be forced back into the closet, and will not be erased. We are stronger, more resilient, and more determined than ever before.”
In the same release, HRC Senior Counsel and State Legislative Director Cathryn Oakley said, “In a desperate and reprehensible move in the final hours of legislative session, extremist Kentucky legislators in both chambers cheated the system and pushed through a dangerous, sweeping and unprecedented bill that assaults transgender and nonbinary youth on multiple fronts. This bill would terrorize transgender youth in schools, in doctor’s offices, and even could put them in danger at home. After a session in which constituents repeatedly and forcefully spoke out in opposition to discrimination, the legislature has decided that discrimination is worth suspending the usual legislative process for. These politicians have no place inserting themselves in conversations between doctors, parents, and transgender youth about gender affirming care; they have no place inside a middle school bathroom stall either. And they certainly have no moral authority to insert themselves into matters they know nothing about when they circumvent normal legislative process and refuse to hear the voices of those impacted before they recklessly impose extremely adverse consequences onto a small, vulnerable population of people simply because of disapproval and misunderstanding.
“Let’s be clear: These extremist legislators do not care about passing good public policy. They do not care about abiding by the rules. They do not care that they are harming vulnerable children. And they certainly do not care about parental rights. This is simply a cruel attempt to stigmatize, marginalize and erase the LGBTQ+ community, particularly transgender youth. Shame on them. The Human Rights Campaign strongly condemns the legislature’s actions today and encourages Gov. Beshear to veto this discriminatory bill.”
The American Civil Liberties’ Union’s Kentucky affiliate called SB 150 unconstitutional and promised to challenge it in court if it becomes law. “The ACLU of Kentucky remains committed to protecting the civil liberties of ALL Kentuckians. Legislators cannot erase transgender people from existence, and we will continue to fight for equal rights and equal protection under the law,” said a statement from Amber Duke, interim executive director. “This dangerous bill and others like it across the country are nothing more than a desperate attempt to score political points by targeting people who simply want to live their lives. True democracy requires meaningful and informed debate and engagement from the public. The shameful process on display in the Kentucky House undermines the public trust in government.”
Beshear has spoken out against anti-trans legislation. At his weekly press conference, he said, “I believe the medical decisions for all of our youth, including our transgender youth, ought to be made by their families,” the Kentucky Lantern reports.
He also said it was disrespectful to Berg to address the issue now. “I wish everybody would respect her and her loss enough not to be doing this either at all or during this session,” Beshear said.
But whether his expected veto will hold up is in question. Last year legislators overrode his veto of a bill barring transgender girls and women from competing with cisgender females in school sports.