Isaac Johnson, who just completed an internship with Topeka's public schools and is finishing work on a social work degree, talks to reporters during a news conference, Thursday, April 26, 2024, in front of a mural at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Source: AP Photo/John Hanna

A Ban in Kansas on Gender-Affirming Care also would Bar Advocacy for Kids' Social Transitions

John Hanna READ TIME: 4 MIN.

A proposed ban in Kansas on gender-affirming care for minors also would bar state employees from promoting it – or even children's social transitioning.

Teachers and social workers who support LGBTQ+ rights worry that they could be disciplined or fired for helping kids who are exploring their gender identities.

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed the proposed ban, and top Republicans anticipated Friday that the GOP-controlled Legislature will attempt to override her action before lawmakers adjourn for the year Tuesday. Their bill appeared to have the two-thirds majorities needed in both chambers to override a veto when it passed last month, but that could depend on all Republicans being present and none of them switching.

Supporters of the bill said the provision now being singled out for criticism is designed to ensure that the banned care – puberty blockers, hormone treatments and surgery – isn't still promoted with tax dollars or other state resources.

But compared to the restrictions or bans on gender-affirming care in two dozen other states, the Kansas proposal appears more sweeping because of its broad language against the promotion of social transitioning that applies to state employees "whose official duties include the care of children," LGBTQ+ rights advocates said.

"That is not something that we have seen before," said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, an attorney for the LGBTQ+ rights group Lambda Legal. "It really allows us to look behind the curtain at what is the true motivation behind this bill, which has nothing to do with protecting the health and safety of youth and everything to do with attacking transgender people and erasing transgender identity."

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.

Other provisions of the proposed ban would prevent gender-affirming care from occurring on state property and prohibit groups receiving state funds from advocating medications or surgery to treat a child whose gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth.

Brittany Jones, an attorney and policy director for the conservative Kansas Family Voice, said courts have consistently ruled that a state "has the right to direct what is being done with its funds."

"This does not block any child from socially transitioning, but it cannot be at the behest of a government entity," she said in an email.

In statehouses across the U.S., Republicans have promoted restrictions on gender-affirming care by portraying it as experimental and the potential source of long-term medical problems.

Backers of the Kansas proposal have repeatedly pointed to the National Health Service of England's recent decision to stop prescribing puberty blockers as a routine treatment for minors seeking gender transitions.

"Obviously, we believe in our heart of hearts that they shouldn't be steering students toward that sort of thing, that they should be looking at all alternative counseling and things of that nature," said state Sen. Mike Thompson, a conservative Kansas City-area Republican.

Such bans are opposed by major American medical groups, which have firmly endorsed gender-affirming care for minors. At least 200 Kansas medical and mental health professionals signed a letter to lawmakers opposing the proposed ban.

Young transgender Kansas residents have repeatedly said their transitions improved their lives dramatically. Parents of transgender kids have described gender-affirming care as vital to combatting severe depression and suicidal tendencies.

But as troubling as they and others find the loss of access for kids to gender-affirming care, they have focused in recent weeks on the provision against promoting social transitioning as especially scary to them.

"I was taught to uplift students and make them know that I will support them 100 percent, no matter who they are," Riley Long, a transgender special education teacher, said during a news conference in the Kansas City area. "This bill makes it seem like it is only OK to listen to my cisgender students, and that my transgender students are automatically incorrect."

Under the bill, social transitioning includes "the changing of an individual's preferred pronouns or manner of dress." The measure doesn't spell out what constitutes promoting it.

The Kansas State Department of Education says public school teachers and administrators aren't legally considered state employees. However, educators who support transgender rights aren't confident that they wouldn't fall under the ban – or that opponents of transgender rights wouldn't attack their jobs regardless.

Isaac Johnson, who is completing a social work degree and just finished an internship in Topeka's public schools, said problems could arise from interactions like one he had with a girl who told him, "I don't really feel like a girl. I only feel like a boy."

"All I said back in response is, 'Well, what does that mean? What does it mean to be a girl?' " Johnson, who is transgender, told reporters during a Statehouse news conference Thursday. "My fear is that, per the law, because I didn't come out explicitly and say, 'No, you're a girl. You'll always be a girl,' that will be seen as promoting social transition."

Transgender Kansas residents and parents of transgender kids also believe they have even more cause to be nervous after Republican lawmakers last year overrode Kelly's veto of a measure that ended the state's legal recognition of transgender people's gender identities. The law's most visible consequence has been to keep transgender people from changing their driver's licenses and birth certificates to reflect their gender identities – something that wasn't the focus of last year's debate.

Aaron Roberts, the pastor of a United Church of Christ congregation in the Kansas City area, said support from social workers was crucial to his transgender daughter before she joined his family out of foster care. She is now a college student.

"All the support that she got from those wonderful social workers who went above and beyond to help her navigate her gender identity – this bill wipes them out," he said. "Gone."

by John Hanna

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