Kentucky legislature overrides veto of anti-trans bill
Votes came after youth rallied asking lawmakers to let veto stand
A crowd protesting anti-LGBTQ+ legislation gathered on the Capitol grounds on March 29. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Sarah Ladd)
This story discusses suicide and anti-LGBTQ attacks in Kentucky. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.
The Trevor Project, which aims to end suicide among LGBTQ+ youth, also has trained counselors available around the clock. Reach them at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at https://www.thetrevorproject.org/get-help/, or by texting START to 678678.
FRANKFORT – Noah Healander’s mental health improved once he was able to live “authentically” as a transgender boy, he told a cheering crowd outside the Kentucky Capitol Wednesday.
But when anti-trans legislation popped up in the legislature this session, “I started to fall back into a mental health spiral,” he said. “That does not mean I will give up.”
He was one of hundreds of Kentucky students gathered on the Capitol grounds. Anticipating a vote to overturn Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto of controversial anti-trans Senate Bill 150, they pleaded with lawmakers to prevent the legislation from becoming law.
Hours later, the Senate voted 29-8 to overturn the veto. The House voted to override 76-23.
“In their so-called attempt to protect children, this legislature has sentenced many to death,” Rebecca Blankenship, Kentucky’s first openly trans elected official and the executive director of Ban Conversion Therapy Kentucky, said in a statement. “The LGBT community will work hard to care for one another through this crisis as we have through many before. In the end, we will survive, and we will prevail.”
SB150 bans gender affirming care for minors and directs local school boards to make policies keeping people from using bathrooms, locker rooms or showers that “are reserved for students of a different biological sex.” The bill also places new restrictions on sex education in public schools.
Sponsor Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, has said the measure protects the rights of parents.
“The goal is to strengthen parental engagement and communication in children’s education on protecting the safety of our children,” he said on the Senate floor. He added that it “reinforces a positive atmosphere in the classroom and removes unnecessary distractions.”
Trans kids may have use of single-stall bathrooms or “controlled use” of staff facilities, the bill says. They won’t have access to bathrooms that don’t conform to their birth sex when other students are using those facilities.
Advocates have said they worry SB150, as a law, could result in youth suicides. Outside, between speeches, songs and poems, protesters also staged a “die in” on the grass. In waves people sat and lied on the grass to demonstrate potential fallout from SB150.
The Trevor Project, which aims to end suicide among LGBTQ+ youth, reported in 2022 that 59% of Kentucky’s transgender and nonbinary kids considered suicide, and 24% tried to take their own lives.
Healander testified before the crowd that he was one of those who tried to take his life.
“Trans people existing are not a threat to anyone,” he said. “We’re merely fighting to maintain the most basic human rights. All of you are loved and valued. We must keep fighting until everyone has the ability to live safely and authentically.”
Protesters holding signs that said “Love all kids,” “Stop hate” and “SB150=State Violence” cheered and clapped for him.
Family Foundation also rallies
Inside the Capitol Rotunda, proponents of the legislation asserted they are also motivated by love.
Family Foundation executive director David Walls said the organization loves “each and every person created in the image of God.”
“SB 150 will protect the lives of Kentucky’s children by setting our public policy in alignment with the truth that each and every child is created as a biological male or female, deserves to be loved, treated with dignity and accepted for who they really are,” he told that crowd.
Rep. Jennifer Decker, R-Waddy, denounced Beshear’s veto to the crowd at the Family Foundation rally. She sponsored House Bill 470, which was added to SB 150 in the House.
“He took the radical position of protecting and promoting the multi-billion dollar business of subjecting the healthy bodies of children with gender dysphoria to chemicals and life altering surgeries before they have the cognitive ability to give informed consent,” she said.
What did lawmakers say?
When Senate Bill 150 reached the Senate and House floors, lawmakers repeated much of the arguments they’d voiced earlier in the session.
In the House, Rep. Daniel Grossberg, D-Louisville, called the veto override a “travesty.”
“We may not win today and we may not win tomorrow, but we will ultimately win,” he said. “Trans people are not going anywhere and neither are we.”
Sen. Karen Berg, D-Louisville, read from the last thing her transgender son ever wrote before he died by suicide in December.
“To say this is the bill protecting children is completely disingenuous,” she said. “And to call this a parents’ rights bill is an absolute despicable affront to me personally.”
Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Benton, voted against SB150. He previously proposed narrowing the scope of anti-trans legislation, citing his concern over youth suicides.
“Going against your entire caucus is a very uncomfortable place to be,” Carroll said on the Senate floor. “I’ve been called lots of names from people I never would expect to be called names by in the last several days.”
He again cited youth suicides in his vote explanation.
“We’re not doctors,” he said. “I trust them to make the right decisions when they’re dealing with those kids in those specific instances.”
Some lawmakers pushed back against the assertion that trans Kentuckians have made that gender-affirming surgeries for minors aren’t happening in Kentucky.
“If they weren’t, we sure as hell don’t ever want them to be happening in Kentucky,” said Sen. Lindsey Tichenor, R-Smithfield.
For some, the biggest issue was the bathroom component of the bill.
“I have eight granddaughters,” Sen. Gary Boswell, R-Owensboro, said. “Who here could support a man going into my granddaughters’ bathroom?”
Republicans pushed through the veto override in both chambers over chanting by protesters opposing SB150 on the Senate and House steps, including protesters who chanted “trans rights are human rights” in the House gallery. Some protesters shouting in the gallery were removed by law enforcement. Some appeared to have their hands bound as they were brought out. Kentucky State Police said 19 people were arrested.
“My identity should not be put on hold”
Outside earlier Wednesday, nonbinary student June Wagner testified that their life has, recently, revolved around protesting anti-LGBTQ legislation.
This session, Kentucky legislators introduced 11 anti-LGBTQ bills, according to an American Civil Liberties Union tracking site. More than 400 bills nationwide threaten the freedoms of speech and expression, health care and civil rights, the ACLU says.
“My life is not something to be swept under a rug,” said Wagner, 17. “My identity should not be put on hold until I turn 18.”
In the crowd, someone blew large bubbles that wafted up the Capitol Annex steps, past the large transgender pride flag and into the sky.
McKenna Horsley contributed to this report. This story may be updated.
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