Life-threatening discrimination against trans youth is legislative malpractice

‘If House Bill 470 were in place when I was a practicing child psychologist, I could have lost my license’

February 28, 2023 5:30 am

A statue of frontier surgeon Eprhaim McDowell looked on as the Kentucky Fairness Rally for LGBTQ Rights drew a crowd to the Capitol Rotunda on Feb. 15. (Photo for Kentucky Lantern by Sarah Ladd)

This column mentions suicide. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.

As a retired child psychologist who spent most of my career in Kentucky, I am seriously troubled by Senate Bill 150 and House Bill 470, both directed at transgender youth and under consideration by the Kentucky legislature. 

 Trans persons were virtually unknown to my generation.  Many people find the phenomenon unsettling. Capitalizing on such fear, Senate Bill 150 and House Bill 470 could institutionalize life-threatening discrimination against youth on a very difficult journey of exploration. 

For years, gay youth wrestled with the allure of suicide in response to agonizing rejection — especially from peers or family.  It took decades and the courage of those who “came out” for us to realize valued persons among our families and friends were gay.  

Let’s not revisit such pain upon youth who find their deepest identity at odds with their physical gender. Senate Bill 150 is so intrusive as to even prescribe the pronouns by which these youth may be addressed.  

Though unfamiliar to many, options now exist to help transgender youth. Social misunderstanding can be a powerful force.  In earlier times, many in our society insisted people inclined to be left-handed be retrained as right-handed.   

If House Bill 470 were in place when I was a practicing child psychologist, I could have lost my license.

In 1978, I saw my first convincingly trans youth. The youth’s issues were beyond any of my training.  I contacted experts at Johns Hopkins University where they generously provided staff to guide me.  

The youth’s school made reasonable accommodations — teachers briefed on procedure and confidentiality and use of a unisex restroom. 

Later the family and youth worked directly with Johns Hopkins.  

Standards for trans treatment were cautious and thorough. Living for an extended period in the gender role the youth desired (name, pronouns, dress … ) was not a final step but part of a rigorous screening process for a serious choice.  

HB 470 broadly criminalizes almost any assistance to trans youth prior to age of 18 and is tantamount to legislative malpractice, a phenomenon for which there are truly no standards.

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T. Kerby Neill
T. Kerby Neill

T. Kerby Neill, Ph.D, became interested in psychology while serving in the U. S. Navy. A husband, father and grandfather, he has worked in the Kentucky since 1974 developing multiple programs for children and youth in the Bluegrass area, participating in statewide initiatives for children and youth, and editing a book on supervision of psychotherapy with children. He has received a number of awards for his work in Kentucky.