How one Northern Kentucky family prepares for potential passage of ‘anti-trans’ legislation
This article is republished from Link NKY.
When Nancy Bardgett’s daughter came out as transgender, she was thankful that Jordan was able to receive the care she needed.
In addition to having a supportive family, Jordan, a student at Northern Kentucky University at the time, received mental-health support.
“She had supportive friends and she sought out resources and knew where to look for help,” Nancy said.
In 2022, the Trevor Project conducted a survey on the mental health of the LGBTQ community and found suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24. Further, LGBTQ-questioning youth are at a significantly increased risk.
“You look at the American Medical Association, The Trevor project, and all the data is very clear,” Gov. Andy Beshear said. “We should be in the business of preventing teen suicides and never contributing to it.”
Proponents of Senate Bill 150 say LGBTQ advocates are using suicide to put kids and their health in the crosshairs on this issue.
The bill could become law March 29 or 30 if Republican lawmakers override Gov. Andy Beshear’s March 24 veto.
The bill, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Shelley Funke Frommeyer, R-Alexandria; John Schickel, R-Union; and Gex Williams, R-Verona, bans puberty blockers, gender-affirming surgery or hormones for those under the age of 18. It would also prohibit schools from teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity in classrooms and force transgender students to use the bathroom that aligns with the gender they were assigned at birth.
Opponents of the bill say it’s one of the worst pieces of “anti-trans” and “anti-LGBTQ” legislation in the country. But proponents say it would protect parental rights.
“As far as the parental rights issue, this is something that is happening all over the country,” Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said. “There is a lot of concern about parental rights in schools. I think it’s partially due to COVID and all the virtual learning, and parents got a front-row seat to what was happening in schools everywhere.”
One of the challenges as a parent, Bardgett said, was understanding her daughter when she came out — something she admits she wasn’t perfect about as she fumbled over pronouns. But she worked on it.
“One of the things that is so horrible about this bill is it’s just this effort to not let anybody understand,” Bardgett said.
The bill would prevent teachers from discussing human sexuality in classrooms in any grade level. It would also prevent any sex education for those under grade 3; and without parents first opting-in for grades 6-12.
Bardgett also said that people think trans parents indoctrinate their kids, but she and her husband, Mark, didn’t necessarily want this for their daughter. They felt it might put her in harm’s way. But they also wanted their daughter to know they support her no matter what.
In Fort Thomas, where the Bardgetts live, Nancy feels SB 150 is not what Kentucky residents stand for.
“This isn’t the people of Kentucky,” Bardgett said, who volunteers with the Campbell County Democrats, Brighton Center and in her church. “This is certain people in the Kentucky legislature.”
‘Each session takes on a life of its own’
In October, Thayer spoke at the Covington Business Council’s legislative preview and said the 2023 legislative session would be slow paced.
In odd-numbered years, the Kentucky legislature holds 30-day sessions as opposed to 60-day budget sessions in even-numbered years.
In 2022, with Republican supermajorities in both the House and Senate, the legislature passed bills that banned abortion, cut unemployment benefits, reduced the income tax, and set the state’s budget for 2023 and 2024.
The 2023 session would, according to Thayer, whose district stretches into southern Kenton County, be about cleaning up some of the legislation from 2022, including further reducing the income tax.
Instead, the 2023 session evolved into one focused on passing an omnibus piece of legislation focused on limiting health-care resources to transgender minors and how gender and sexuality are discussed in schools.
Thayer also said that while leadership expected the session to be slow, the legislature is driven by its members.
“Each session takes on a life of its own,” Thayer said.
A ‘clash of worldviews’
The legislation first appeared in the House as House Bill 470 in early March, when the House Judiciary Committee passed it. The passage came amid LGBTQ advocates lining the hallways of the Kentucky Capitol annex, chanting “shame” as legislators walked by.
After it passed the committee, and with tears in her eyes, Northern Kentucky Rep. Kim Banta, R-Fort Mitchell, said she’d worked hard to prevent conversion therapy in the LGBTQ community, and that this was another step backwards.
“I’m really upset for families right now,” Banta said. “I’m upset because I feel like we denigrated the medical profession. I feel like we’re making people feel less than and I don’t like that.”
In 2021, Banta introduced legislation that would have banned conversion therapy in the commonwealth. Banta said she tried to approach it from the angle that it is bad therapy practice.
“I tried very hard to get people to understand that I was not trying to change their religion or their belief or their thought about being gay,” Banta said.
The bill never received any movement in the legislature.
“People were way too afraid that it was going to infringe on their religious liberty,” Banta said. “I would never try to control someone’s religious liberty.”
Banta cut parts of the bill to appease some religious members of the House but felt it would be gutting the bill if she cut it anymore. She didn’t reintroduce the legislation in 2022.
When it comes to religious liberty, no group lobbies the legislature more than the Kentucky Family Foundation — a Christian organization that spent more than $13,000 to lobby the legislature in 2022 to follow “biblical values.”
David Walls, a Texas transplant, took over as the foundation’s executive director at the end of 2021. In the last two years, Walls has appeared regularly in the legislature, not only lobbying but also providing testimony on legislation deemed important by the organization.
According to the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission, the group lobbies for legislation related to parental rights, the protection of children, religious liberty, the sanctity of human life and gambling.
During Walls’ nearly two years in Kentucky, the legislature pushed through an omnibus abortion bill and this year’s omnibus “anti-trans” bill.
When Walls lived in Texas, he worked for a company called Texas Values — a spinoff of the First Liberty Institute, an organization fighting for what it calls religious freedom and Judeo-Christian values.
“All of this desire to address this issue was at a place of wanting to protect kids and wanting to keep parents empowered and in the driver’s seat of what happens to them,” Walls said. “And part of this is just a clash of worldviews.”
Walls also said that LGBTQ advocates are using the conversation over mental health and suicide in a way that’s harmful.
“I think it is tremendously harmful and outright shameful the way in which LGBTQ advocates and the governor and others are trying to use the topic of suicide to put kids and their health and well-being in the crosshairs on this issue,” Walls said.
Parents who opposed the bill argue it strips them of their rights to take care of their children’s health care.
Both sides presented their arguments during the House Judiciary Committee hearing for HB 470.
Chris Bolling, a retired pediatrician from Northern Kentucky, said the bill would make it nearly impossible for pediatric medical providers to provide gender-affirming care in the state, as the legislation would be punitive for doctors with the potential to lose their license.
“It labels medical treatment, that is the standard of care for patients with gender dysphoria, as unprofessional and unethical,” Bolling said. “It mandates the revocation of the license of any provider who provides or refers to the care and criminalizes not reporting to minors who are referring to this care.”
Rep. Kim Moser, R-Taylor Mill, said the bill sets Kentucky back decades.
“I understand the desire to keep our kids safe from predatory actions, but I don’t think that’s what’s happening,” Moser said. “I think this is, unfortunately, short-sighted and discriminatory.”
While many Kentuckians advocated against the bill, primarily out-of-state speakers touted it during the 2023 legislative session.
Luka Hein, a Wisconsin resident who travels the country testifying to state legislatures, explained she once identified as transgender, changing her pronouns to he/him. When she was 16, she said she received a double mastectomy and hormone therapy before detransitioning later in life. She urged the committee to vote in favor of the bill.
“I was affirmed on a path of medical intervention that I could not fully understand the long-term impacts and consequences of, nor fully consent to use it with my age and mental health,” Hein said.
Dr. Christian Van Mol, who serves on the boards of Bethel Church of Redding and Moral Revolution — a California megachurch that gained notoriety for something called “grave sucking” where members would lie on the graves of dead revivalists and believed they would absorb the dead person’s anointing from God — testified during the House Judiciary Committee meeting.
“Transition affirming medical interventions actually imperil at-risk and gender dysphoric youth,” Van Mol said in the committee meeting.
After the bill passed the committee, legislators ushered the bill to the House floor and quickly took up a vote.
As advocates chanted outside the House chamber, members voted to pass the bill by a vote of 75-22.
Moser’s statement on the floor noted that the eyes of the world were on Kentucky.
“I would like to say to the rest of the world that’s watching Kentucky — we are not complete neanderthals,” Moser said.
In addition to Moser and Banta, Rep. Stephanie Dietz, R-Edgewood, provided the only Republican no votes.
Bardgett regarded those no votes as acts of kindness from legislators.
“I will tell you some of my heroes in this, and what I keep saying to people, are some of the Northern Kentucky legislators who voted no,” Bardgett said. “Because they were listening to their hearts and to their constituents, and not to their party leaders.”
A February Mason-Dixon Poll found that 71% of Kentuckians opposed any such law, with 83% of Democrats and 62% of Republicans in opposition. The poll showed that most Kentuckians would rather leave that decision up to parents.
Northern Kentucky lawmaker takes center stage in push to pass bill in Senate
After the bill cleared the House, it appeared in the Senate, and Sen. Gex Williams took a central role in the strategy to push HB 470 through the upper chamber of the Kentucky legislature.
Standing on the Senate steps near 11 p.m. on March 15, the Wednesday night before the veto period, Williams strategized with David Walls, the executive director of the Family Foundation, Sen. Adrienne Southworth, R-Lawrenceburg, and Sen. Lindsey Tichenor, R-Smithfield, about how to push through the bill.
The impromptu strategy session came moments after Williams motioned to table the bill to the Senate clerk’s desk — a temporary strategy to delay the vote and give the Senate time to get enough votes to pass the legislation.
The motion came after Williams filed two amendments — one early in the evening and the other later in the evening — that mirrored a law passed in South Dakota and signed into law by Gov. Kristi Noem in February that bans puberty blockers, gender-affirming surgery and cross-sex hormones.
The amendments provided exceptions for those who must take hormones for health reasons but would ban gender-affirming surgery or medication.
Less than 12 hours later, the legislature quickly moved to pass the legislation by putting the language from House Bill 470 into a committee substitute and put it into Senate Bill 150 — a bill that initially gave teachers the option to use the pronouns of transgender students’ choosing.
The move to pass the bill started in the House when a surprise House Education meeting was called during lunch the day before the veto period on March 16. There was one agenda item — Senate Bill 150.
The move gave legislators on the committee and in the House little time to read and understand the bill.
Republicans then rushed the bill to the House floor, where a vote quickly took place, but not before Democrats spent nearly two hours trying to stall it.
“This shouldn’t be a trust exercise,” Beshear said, criticizing the maneuver. “Every legislator should have the time, as should the public, to read anything that’s coming up for a committee or for a legislative vote.”
Rep. David Meade, R-Stanford, who carried the bill in the House, cited a statistic that 66% of Kentuckians want this legislation.
But Meade wouldn’t cite the source for the statistic, and House Communications staff didn’t respond with where Meade received the numbers.
Beshear vetoed the bill on March 24, but Republican leadership in both chambers indicated they would override the veto when they return from the 10-day period on March 29.
On the Senate floor after voting yes on the passage of SB 150, Williams said the bill was about love and concern from rising suicide rates over what he deemed to be issues with transgender people taking drugs to change their biological sex.
“When you introduce drugs, and you try to fight 30 or 40 trillion cells in your body, using drugs, the outcome is not going to be good,” Williams said.
‘Purely political vantage point’
The lone Democrat in the Northern Kentucky caucus, House Minority Whip Rachel Roberts, D-Newport, didn’t mince words when speaking about this legislation.
“I don’t think it’s just the worst anti-trans bill in the country,” Roberts said. “I think this is one of the worst anti-LGBTQ bills in the country.”
Roberts also said the bill is a political move in a gubernatorial election year, as Republicans try to oust Democrat Andy Beshear from the governor’s office.
Outside of Beshear, Republicans control every branch of Kentucky’s government, including both chambers of the legislature and all the state’s constitutional seats — attorney general, treasurer, secretary of state, state auditor, agriculture commissioner.
“I think the push for this is coming from a purely political vantage point,” Roberts said. “It’s a calculated messaging strategy on the majority party side that they think is going to help them win elections this year and the constitutional seats that are up for election, and that will be part of their messaging.”
SB 150’s sponsor is Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, who is the running mate of Republican Kelly Craft — a former United Nations ambassador appointed by former President Donald Trump who is running for governor this year.
When Beshear vetoed the bill on March 24 and said, “I believe Senate Bill 150 tears away the freedom of parents to make important and difficult medical decisions for their kids,” Republicans across the state, including Wise and Craft, immediately attacked Beshear.
“As governor, I will fight any attempt to sexualize our children and rob them of their futures,” Craft wrote in a statement. “It’s time we dismantle the Department of Education and start fresh. Governor Beshear doesn’t have the leadership to do it, but the Craft-Wise Administration will deliver on that promise.”
Roberts argued that the “anti-trans” message is the one that will replace the abortion message — after the fall of Roe v. Wade in 2022 triggered a law that banned the procedure in Kentucky.
“They needed the latest shiny penny thing that they could try and rally voters around, and tragically that seems to be them targeting some of the most vulnerable children in our community,” Roberts said.
While the bill played out politically in the Kentucky statehouse and in this year’s gubernatorial race, it has real world implications for trans Kentuckians. Jordan, who now attends graduate school in Illinois, has questioned whether she’ll return to the commonwealth when she finishes her studies, according to her mother, Nancy Bardgett.
Worse, Bardgett said, is that this bill will have a major impact on school aged children, with some parents starting to question whether they will move out of state.
“I think right now parents, some of them, can’t even fathom the long term implications of this bill,” Bardgett said.