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Kentucky GOP lawmakers override veto of bill targeting transgender youth

Republican lawmakers in Kentucky on Wednesday overrode a Democratic governor’s veto of a bill that would regulate some of the most personal aspects of transgender youth’s lives — from banning access to gender-affirming health care to restricting the bathrooms they can use.

Vote to override Govt. Andy Beshear’s veto Both were lopsided in the legislative chamber — where the GOP commands a supermajority — and came on the next-to-last day of this year’s legislative session.

The debate is likely to spill over into this year’s gubernatorial campaign in Kentucky and could end up in court if opponents follow through on threats to mount a legal challenge to the bill.

Activists on both sides of the emotional debate gathered at the Statehouse to make competing appeals shortly before lawmakers took up the transgender bill.

Hours before the vote, transgender-rights supporters rallied outside Kentucky’s capitol, with trans teenager San Paciga holding up a sign outlining a serious overhaul of Republican legislation aimed at banning access to gender-affirming health care. The sign read: “Our blood is on your hands.”

“If it passes, the limited access to gender-affirming health care, I think that trans kids will die because of it,” the 17-year-old student said, expressing a lingering concern among the bill’s critics that the restrictions could cause a problem. Teen suicide is on the rise.

Supporters and opponents of the Senate transgender bill rally at the Capitol

Protesters confront a speaker during a rally to protest the passage of SB 150 at the Kentucky State Capitol on March 29, 2023 in Frankfort, Kentucky.

John Cherry/Getty Images

The Senate voted 29-8 to override Bessier’s veto, as chants from bill opponents echoed throughout the Capitol. A short time later, the House completed the override by a vote of 76-23 but not before the bill’s opponents were kicked out of the chamber.

Bill supporters rallied to defend the measure, saying it protects trans children from undergoing gender-affirming treatment that they may regret as adults. Research shows that such regrets are rare, however.

“We can’t let people go down a path of fantasy, where they’re going to end up 10, 20, 30 years down the road and find themselves regretting the decisions they made when they were young,” the Republican said. Shane Baker at Wednesday’s rally.

Once the rally in support of the bill ended in the Capitol Rotunda, opponents watched from the balcony and chanted, “Shame, shame.”

Supporters and opponents of the Senate transgender bill rally at the Capitol

Supporters of SB 150 clap during a press conference in support of SB 150 while opponents of the bill hold signs aloft at the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort, Kentucky on March 29, 2023.

John Cherry/Getty Images

The law in Kentucky is part of a national movement, with state lawmakers this year approving a wide range of measures that limit the rights of LGBTQ+ people — to measures targeting trans athletes and drag performers to limit gender-affirming care.

At least 10 states have enacted laws restricting or Banning sex-affirming care for minors: Alabama, ArkansasArizona, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Utah and South Dakota. A proposed ban is pending before West Virginia’s Republican governor. Federal judges have blocked enforcement of the law in Alabama and Arkansas, and nearly two dozen states are considering bills to limit or ban care this year.

The Kentucky Senate debate reflected the emotional arguments raised in rival assemblies.

“We are denying families, their physicians and their therapists the right to make medically informed decisions for their families,” said Sen. Karen Berg, a Democrat who opposed the bill.

Berg read what her son, Henri Berg-Brasseau, had written advocating for transgender rights shortly before his death at the age of 24 late last year. The cause was suicide, his mother said.

Republican Sen. Robbie Mills said he supported the bill because he believed that “puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones, when given to youths under 18 for the purpose of altering their appearance, are dangerous to children’s health.”

Transgender treatment has long been available in the United States and is approved by major medical organizations.

Mills said another reason for his support was that “parents and students should have confidence that their school bathrooms will be used only by the same biological sex.”

Supporters and opponents of the Senate transgender bill rally at the Capitol

Supporters of SB 150 hold signs at the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort, Kentucky on March 29, 2023.

John Cherry/Getty Images

The sweeping Kentucky measure would ban gender-defining care for minors. It would outlaw gender reassignment surgery for under-18s, as well as the use of puberty blockers and hormones, and gender-affirming services for hospital inpatients and outpatients.

Doctors should set a timeline for “weaning” children who are already taking puberty blockers or hormone therapy. They may continue to offer care as they reduce treatment for a young person, if removing them from treatment immediately could harm the child.

The bill would not allow schools to discuss sexual orientation or gender identity with students of any age. It would require school districts to create bathroom policies that, “at a minimum,” would not allow transgender children to use bathrooms associated with their gender identity.

It would also allow teachers to refuse to refer to transgender students by the pronouns they use.

Another trans teenager, Hazel Hardesty, said the possible end of gender-affirming health care would mean “my male puberty will continue,” which would “cause a lot of emotional distress.”

“People don’t even understand what it feels like,” the 16-year-old said during the rally. “Going through the wrong puberty, every day your body gets a little further away from feeling like you. And eventually you don’t recognize yourself in the mirror.”

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