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Gender-affirming care restrictions clear final hurdle in Kentucky General Assembly, over vigorous protests

Transgender youth supporters rally outside the Kentucky Senate on March 29, 2023.
Josh James
Transgender youth supporters rally outside the Kentucky Senate on March 29, 2023.

A bill restricting gender-affirming care, and preventing the use of puberty-blockers, for Kentucky minors is on its way to becoming law, with both chambers of the legislature overwhelmingly voting to overturn Gov. Andy Beshear's veto.

As the Kentucky Senate plowed through overrides of the governor's vetoes, it was Senate Bill 150 — the measure dubbed an "omnibus anti-trans" bill by critics — that drew crowds to the Capitol.

Shouts of "Vote no!" and "Shut it down!" filled the well of the building.

The chants reverberated in the Senate as Republican lawmakers argued the bill was necessary to protect children from what they described as "experimental" and potentially dangerous treatments, despite backing by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association, among other major medical groups.

Countering the notion that the bills are driven by animosity toward the LGBTQ community, Sen. Chris McDaniel said the measure is not a license to hate.

"This bill is not — to any one out there — a license to harass, demean, or impugn the dignity of another human being," the GOP lawmaker said. "This does not give one the right to question the humanity or value of another person's life. It does not give anyone the right to harm the person or property of someone else. If you think that it does, on either side of this issue, you are wrong."

Sen. Lindsey Tichenor suggested that supporters of gender-affirming care, including the use of puberty blockers, are creating a "cash cow" that is harming children.

"Just a few short years ago, there were a handful of pediatric gender clinics in the United States. Now there's somewhere around 300. What are we talking about here?" she asked. "This is a new industry and we need to realize we're driving children to a lifetime of irreversible damage."

"While we lost the battle in the legislature, our defeat is temporary. We will not lose in court."
Chris Hartman, Fairness Campaign

Outside, seated on a bench near the Capitol Annex, with the light blue and pink flag draped over his lap is Quinton — he prefers to go by one name and identifies as transmasculine. He describes the protest held earlier Wednesday as encouraging but heart-wrenching.

"We saw a huge turnout here... It was really heartwarming to see the amount of people that showed up," he said.

On the question of protecting kids and the debate over the suicide rate among transgender youth, he said gender-affirming care can be a lifeline.

"Transitioning doesn't kill you. Not transitioning kills you," Quinton told WUKY. "Transitioning makes you happy. There is pure joy in being able to express yourself and be fully yourself. And to be kept from that, that's what kills people."

But the pleas and outrage expressed by transgender youth, their parents, and supporters did not shift the outcome in the House and Senate, with only a handful of Republicans joining Democrats against overriding the veto.

More than a dozen protesters were reportedly arrested after the House proceedings. WUKY is awaiting more information from Kentucky State Police.

With the bill now on track to hit the books, opponents, including the ACLU, are vowing legal challenges.

In a statement, Fairness Campaign director Christ Hartman wrote, "While we lost the battle in the legislature, our defeat is temporary. We will not lose in court."

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.