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Backers of ban on gender care for minors in Kansas fail to override governor's veto

Mark Steffen
Posted at 9:18 PM, Apr 29, 2024

TOPEKA, Kan. — Republican legislators in Kansas failed Monday to override the Democratic governor's veto of a proposed ban on gender-affirming care for transgender minors.

The vote was 82-43 in the state House to reverse Gov. Laura Kelly's veto, but that was two votes shy of the necessary two-thirds majority.

Two Republicans who'd backed the bill earlier voted against overriding the veto, citing their concerns about provisions that included one that would have barred state employees from advocating social transitioning for transgender youth.

The House's vote came after the Senate voted 27-13 to override the veto, with the exact two-thirds majority required in that chamber.

Under the bill, social transitioning includes “the changing of an individual’s preferred pronouns or manner of dress,” and the rule against promoting it would have applied to state workers who care for children. The measure doesn’t spell out what constitutes promoting it.

The vote in the House was expected to be close after LGBTQ+ rights advocates raised questions about whether the provision against promoting social transitioning is written broadly enough to apply to public school teachers who show empathy for transgender students.

The bill is part of a broader push to roll back transgender rights from Republican lawmakers in statehouses across the U.S. Kansas would have been the 25th state to restrict or ban such care for minors, and this week the South Carolina Senate expected to debate a similar measure that already has passed the state House.

“Unfortunately, in today’s society, the predator in particular is a woke health care system,” said Republican state Sen. Mark Steffen, a central Kansas anesthesiologist and pain management specialist.

Like other Republicans across the U.S., Steffen and other GOP lawmakers in Kansas argued that they're protecting children struggling with their gender identities from being pushed into health care that the lawmakers see as experimental and potentially harmful. But that puts them at odds with the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other major U.S. medical groups.

LGBTQ+ rights groups such as Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union and Equality Kansas have stopped short of saying they would challenge the new law in court, but they've said they believe the provisions preventing state employees from advocating social transitioning violates their free speech rights. They've said that provision makes the Kansas law more sweeping than laws in other states.

Other critics argued that enacting such a ban sends a message that transgender residents aren't welcome. When Kelly vetoed a similar ban last year, she suggested that it would hurt the state's business climate.

“This is not the message we want to send to Americans about the welcoming opportunities that Kansas has,” said state Sen. Tom Holland, a northeastern Kansas Democrat.

About 300,000 youths ages 13 to 17 identify as transgender in the U.S., according to estimates by the Williams Institute, an LGBTQ+ research center at UCLA Law. It estimates that in Kansas, about 2,100 youths in that age group identify as transgender.

Republican lawmakers last year enacted laws barring transgender girls and women from female college and K-12 sports teams and ending legal recognition of transgender residents' gender identities. Transgender residents no longer can change the listing for “sex” on their driver's licenses or birth certificates to match their gender identities, something Kelly's administration had allowed.

“I do feel like there’s a genuine fear about me and what my body means, when I’m very happy,” Issac Johnson, who is transgender and just finished a social work internship in Topeka’s public schools, said during a recent Statehouse news conference.

Transgender youth, parents of transgender children and dozens of medical and mental health providers all described gender-affirming care as life-saving and argued that it lessens severe depression and suicidal tendencies among transgender youth. At least 200 health care providers signed a letter to lawmakers opposing a veto override.