Kentucky House passes controversial anti-transgender bill

Published 12:30 pm Friday, March 3, 2023

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By Sarah Ladd

Kentucky Lantern

Amid protesters’ shouts in the hallways and despite pleas from mental health advocates, the Kentucky House on Thursday passed a bill that would ban access to gender-affirming care for youth.

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Legislators passed anti-trans House Bill 470 by a 75-22 vote.  Two Republicans joined the “no” votes – Reps. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, and Stephanie Dietz, R-Edgewood.

The two-hour debate unfolded as protestors’ shouts and cries filled the Capitol.

“Y’all should be ashamed,” someone cried from the gallery after the vote. Meanwhile, the crowd outside the doors chanted, “vote them out.”

The latest version of the bill could result in health care professionals losing their licenses, and, when applicable, public funding if they provide “gender transition services” to people under 18 years old. The bill describes such care as “unethical and unprofessional” and the providers as “unfit to perform the duties and discharge the responsibilities of his or her position or occupation.”

“Gender transition services” include testosterone, estrogen, hysterectomies and vasectomies, according to the bill. There is an exception clause for people who are born intersex.

Under an earlier version of HB470, therapists who were confirmed to have provided “gender transition services” to someone younger than 18 could have lost their licenses. That was removed in a later version, and many, who had warned that it would deprive transgender youngsters of mental health care, praised that update.

The House vote came immediately after the bill cleared a special-called judiciary committee meeting at noon.

The crowd gathered outside the committee room burst into chants of “shame, shame, shame” as 14 members voted to advance the bill. Seven committee members – representing both parties – voted against the legislation that has been widely condemned and called harmful for transgender youth.

In addition to the protesters who condemned the bill in-person Thursday, 112 organizations sent a letter to lawmakers hours before the vote urging them to reject the bill.

Those who signed included the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, the Kentucky Nurses Association, Louisville NAACP Youth Council, the Alliance for Pediatric Behavioral and Mental Health of Kentucky and many others.

“I will not be made to feel small”

Ten people testified against the bill in the 30 minutes allotted by the committee. More had signed up to do so.

Those who testified included transgender people, parents, doctors and social workers.

Miles Joyner, a licensed clinical social worker, told legislators that, as a transgender man, “I will not be crushed. And I will not be made to feel small by any of this anti-trans political rhetoric.”

He added: “We are not villains. We are not predators. We are human beings deserving of dignity and respect.”

“As a social worker, I am ethically bound to provide honest, competent and evidence-based care,” said Joyner, who said he treats both children and adults.

The bill, he testified, will “encourage transphobia,” affect more than just Kentucky’s children and “make life more dangerous for all of us.”

Christopher Bolling, a pediatrician in Northern Kentucky, called gender-affirming care “comprehensive care” that includes screenings “of all sorts.”

Should the bill become law, Bolling said, it would make it “nearly impossible” to practice pediatric medicine in Kentucky.

“Children rely on the adults in their lives — from parents and teachers to coaches to Sunday school teachers – to usher them through their development,” testified Laurie Grimes, a Louisville child psychologist. “It works out well unless you’re trans. Trans children will be expected to weather some of the most challenging identity issues alone because many of the adults in their lives may soon face severe sanctions for helping them.”

Grimes, who spoke on behalf of the Kentucky Psychological Association, said the legislation is a matter of denying people’s existence.

“At the root of this legislation is the belief that ‘trans’ is not a real thing,” said Grimes. “It’s no surprise that harmful legislation emerges if the very existence of the target constituency is denied.”

Two doctors from out of state testified over Zoom in support of the bill.

Dr. Andre Van Mol with the Council on Adolescent Sexuality for the American College of Pediatricians said “transition affirming medical interventions actually imperil at risk and gender dysphoric youth.”

Another physician, Dr. Roger Hiatt, said “the question of gender is answered at conception. Opinions to the contrary are simply misinformation.” Hiatt called “a change in biological sex” an “impossible dream.”

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jennifer Decker, R-Waddy, said on the House floor she wants to “to protect children in Kentucky from irreparable damage.”

In committee, Luka Hein opened testimony with: “I was a trans kid.”

Hein, who has recently testified in other states in support of anti-transgender legislation, testified about receiving a double mastectomy – the removal of breasts – and going on testosterone at 16.

Hein said “actual help, not drugs and surgery” was needed.

“As a result of this so-called gender affirming care, if it could even be called care, at only 21 I feel as if my body is falling apart,” Hein said. “I now deal with constant joint pain, ribbon spine damage, heart issues. My vocal cords will ache. I watched as my muscle mass wasted away. I don’t know if I will ever be able to carry a child and my breasts are gone. I feel completely abandoned by the medical professionals that did this to me.”

Mason Chernosky, a transgender social worker from Lexington, was outside the committee room as the meeting began.

His personal and professional experience, he told the Lantern, is that gender-affirming care saves lives.

“We’re all out here because we don’t think the legislature should have the right to make medical decisions, that these decisions are … between doctors and patients and parents,”  Chernosky said. “The government does not need to be involved.”

It wasn’t his first time at the Capitol this session. Chernosky testified against Senate Bill 150 last month. With multiple bills filed this legislative session that target rights of LGBTQ community members, he said, it feels like “a sign that legislators are trying to attack our community however they can.”

“It is an unprecedented attack not just on LGBTQ Kentuckians,” he said, “but on our democratic process.”

Bipartisan “grave concerns”

Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, said both on the House floor and in committee that she had “grave concerns” about the legislation.

She took issue with penalties health care workers could face, saying it “undermines everything we’ve done” to bolster that particular workforce. The bill says action can be brought against a provider within a 30-year window for providing gender-affirming services.

Moser called it a “shortsighted and discriminatory” bill that “sets Kentucky back decades” and takes parents’ rights away.

Another Republican, Rep. Stephanie Dietz of Edgewood, told committee members she did not think it was a good idea “for us to pre-determine what is unethical” and bypass licensure boards.

Rep. Keturah Herron, D-Louisville, called the bill “shameful” and thanked Hein “for your bravery.”

“I would never attempt to deny someone’s experience. I also think several things can be true at the same time,” she said. “Being a masculine-centered individual who identifies as queer, I’m letting you know that this is a very dangerous … piece of legislation.”

In his weekly press conference, Gov. Andy Beshear called introducing anti-LGBTQ legislation “amazingly callous” given that Sen. Karen Berg, D-Louisville, lost her transgender son shortly before this session began.

Henry Berg-Bousseau died by suicide and advocated for LGBTQ+ rights.

Most Kentucky voters don’t want anti-trans legislation

A February Mason-Dixon poll showed 71% of Kentucky registered voters don’t want lawmakers making the decisions about trans youth’s healthcare. Interviewers polled 625 voters this year for the poll.

Of those polled, 21% — about one in five — Kentuckians did support legislation like House Bill 470, with 8% undecided, the Fairness Campaign previously reported.

Kasey Suffredini, the vice president of Advocacy and Government Affairs at The Trevor Project, said that bills like 470 “aim to insert politicians’ opinions into personal medical decisions go against expert medical guidance.”

“Decisions about transgender medical care should be made between patients, their parents, and their doctors,” said Suffredini, adding the legislation would “strip trans youth of the best-practice medical care that many rely on to lead healthy, happy lives.”

The Trevor Project, which aims to end suicide among LGBTQ+ youth, also reported in 2022 that 59% of Kentucky’s transgender and nonbinary kids considered suicide, and 24% tried to take their own lives.

Reporter McKenna Horsley contributed to this report.