FRANKFORT, Ky. — In the midst of transgender-rights advocates rallying outside Kentucky’s Capitol, trans teenager Sun Pacyga held up a sign Wednesday summing up a grim review 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 restricted access to gender-affirming health care, I think trans kids will die because of that,” the 17-year-old student said, expressing a persistent concern among the bill’s critics that the restrictions could lead to an increase in teen suicides.
Activists on both sides of the debate gathered at the statehouse to make competing appeals as the GOP-dominated legislature reconvened for the final two days of this year’s session. Lawmakers are expected to vote on overriding Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto of the transgender measure. The bill easily passed both legislative chambers earlier this month with veto-proof majorities.
Bill supporters assembled to defend the measure, saying it protects trans children from undertaking gender-affirming treatments they might regret as adults. Research shows such regret is rare, however.
“We cannot allow people to continue down the path of fantasy, to where they’re going to end up 10, 20, 30 years down the road and find themselves miserable from decisions that they made when they were young,” said Republican Rep. Shane Baker of Somerset.
Once the rally to support the bill ended in the Capitol Rotunda, opponents watching from the balconies chanted, “Shame, shame.”
The legislation in Kentucky is part of a national movement, with state lawmakers approving extensive measures that restrict the rights of LGBTQ people this year — from bills targeting trans athletes and drag performers to measures limiting gender-affirming care. At least nine states have enacted laws restricting or banning gender-affirming care for minor.
The sweeping Kentucky measure would ban gender-affirming care for minors. It would outlaw gender reassignment surgery for anyone under 18, as well as the use of puberty blockers and hormones, and inpatient and outpatient gender-affirming hospital services.
Doctors would have to set a timeline to “detransition” children already taking puberty blockers or undergoing hormone therapy. They could continue offering care as they taper a youngster’s treatments, if removing them from the treatment immediately could harm the child.
Transgender medical treatments have long been available in the United States and are endorsed by major medical associations.
The bill would not allow schools to discuss sexual orientation or gender identity with students of any age. It would also require school districts to devise bathroom policies that, “at a minimum,” would not allow transgender children to use the bathroom aligned with their gender identities.
It would further allow teachers to refuse to refer to transgender students by the pronouns they use.
Another trans teenager, Hazel Hardesty, said the potential discontinuation of gender-affirming health care would mean “my male puberty would continue,” which would “cause a lot of mental distress.”
“People don’t even understand how it feels,” the 16-year-old said. “Going through the wrong puberty, every day your body is a little bit farther from what feels like you. And eventually you don’t even recognize yourself in the mirror.”