Republican legislators in Kansas approved a plan early Friday to end gender-affirming care for transgender youth, capping a week of intensifying efforts to roll back LGBTQ rights like other states with GOP-controlled legislatures.
The Kansas House voted 70-52 to pass a bill requiring the state's medical board to revoke the licenses of doctors who provide gender-affirming care to minors, even though many professionals who deal with transgender youth see such care as vital to preserving their mental health and preventing suicides. The Senate then voted 23-12 to approve the measure, sending it to Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly.
The governor is expected to veto it, having promised LGBTQ youth during a Statehouse lobbying day last month that she would protect their rights and reject any measure "that aims to harm or discriminate against you." Supporters were well short of the two-thirds majorities in both chambers needed to override a veto.
LGBTQ-rights advocates believe they're seeing a national effort to erase transgender, non-binary, gender non-conforming and gender fluid people from American society, at least legally. Dr. Beth Oller, a family physician in a small northwestern Kansas town who provides gender-affirming care, saw GOP lawmakers going "in search of a dog whistle" to unite their party.
"This one was a winner because they found it palatable to strip rights from a population that was small and did not affect most of them," she said in an email Thursday night. "They delude themselves with groupthink so that they can pretend this isn't about hate but about protection, but we know the truth."
Thirteen other states have enacted laws against gender-affirming care for minors, though federal judges have blocked enforcement of them in Alabama and Arkansas. Republican lawmakers across the U.S. have pursued several hundred proposals this year pushing back on LGBTQ rights.
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Supporters of the Kansas ban argue it's about protecting children against medical care that comes with side effects or cannot be reversed later. They contend that only an adult — and not a minor's parent — can consent to the treatments.
"We all now children change their minds," Republican state Rep. Susan Humphries of Wichita said. "How many children know what they want to be when they grow up?"
The care falling under the bill would include puberty-blocking drugs and hormone therapy. While the bill would not keep transgender youth from receiving counseling or psychiatric therapy, the measure applies to acts performed or "causing" acts "to affirm the child's perception of the child's sex" if it differs from gender assigned at birth.
"Where I kind of part ways with some of this is with surgical procedures," said state Rep. Steve Howe, a Republican from central Kansas. "I do agree that all kids have value, and that's why I'm going to support the bill."
The Kansas vote came after its lawmakers on Thursday passed a "parents' rights" bill allowing families to pull their children out of lessons and activities involving LGBTQ-themed materials and another measure restricting rooming arrangements for transgender students on school trips.
Republicans on Tuesday approved a broad bathroom bill that would prevent transgender people from changing the gender on their driver's licenses. On Wednesday they overrode Kelly's veto of a bill banning transgender female athletes from girls' and women's sports.
"People are finally getting tired of this push toward trying to push our kids in the wrong direction, and I think that this is a pushback from parents, from people who see this as a big problem," said state Sen. Mike Thompson, a conservative, Kansas City-area Republican who backed all of the measures. "For hundreds and hundreds and thousands of years, I think that this has not been a problem. Then all of a sudden it seems like it is."
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Humphries suggested "a social contagion" driven by social media is helping increase "confused" young people's desire to transition do a different gender, repeating an idea that's been debunked by multiple studies.
Transgender medical treatments for children and teens have been available in the U.S. for more than a decade and are endorsed by major medical associations.
"Gender-affirming medicine is lifesaving," Jordan Smith, a Kansas City-area resident who identifies as gender fluid and is the Kansas chapter leader for Parasol Patro, a group advocating for LGBTQ youth, said after a transgender-rights rally at the Statehouse last week.
"You know, the kids are trying to understand who they are and they're supposed to look to the adults to have that guidance," they added, "and the adults are wanting to say, 'No, you can't be that way. No, that's not right. You're just confused.'"
After last week's transgender rights rally, Ian Benalcazar, a 13-year-old transgender northeastern Kansas boy, said his decision to socially transition to male was "one of the greatest decisions of my life."
"I feel so much more free and so much more myself, and it's allowed me to make so many great connections with people and just be authentically me," he said.
Oller, the northwestern Kansas doctor, said she has patients who are "terrified" they won't be able to access care and she's worried enactment of a law against gender-affirming care could force her to leave her small town.
But she also said she would probably sue the state, "because I'm not going to take this lying down."