Transgender teen: Anti-LGBTQ bills mean Kentucky doesn’t want me here
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FRANKFORT — Until last week, Ray Loux could easily picture his future in Kentucky: studying neuroscience in state, being a researcher. Aging in the body that feels right for him surrounded by family, friends. Living, not just surviving.
But the Kentucky legislature took that certainty from the Lexington teen when both the Senate and the House passed a sweeping anti-transgender bill last week.
If legislation like Senate Bill 150 had been law four years ago, when Loux came out as transgender, “I don’t know if I’d be here,” he said.
Back then, he avoided drinking water until he got home from school so he wouldn’t need to use a public bathroom. He worried someone might assault or attack him while he did so. He suffered urinary tract infections and severe dehydration as a result.
Four years into his transition, he still worries.
“I am still scared to this day of using the restroom,” he said. “If I walk up to a bathroom and I hear people talking inside of it, I will go to a different bathroom.”
Yet, anti-LGBTQ Senate Bill 150 — which also bans gender-affirming care for minors — 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.”
In other words, a trans boy like Loux, 16, would have to use the girls’ restroom at school.
Trans kids may have use of single-stall bathrooms or “controlled use” of staff facilities, the bill says. But they won’t have access to student bathrooms that don’t conform to their sex at birth when other students are using those facilities.
Loux doesn’t think legislators have considered the real fallout of that. He’s 6-foot-1. He’s “lucky enough to pass pretty well” as a cisgender boy, he said. Most people don’t realize he’s transgender until he tells them.
“They don’t want me in girls’ bathrooms,” he said. “They (want) to keep boys out of girls’ bathrooms. And I’m like: ‘yeah, I don’t want that. I don’t want to use the girls’ bathroom.’”
The legislation also has him questioning where to attend college. Loux, who grew up in Texas, always pictured himself at the University of Kentucky, but now he’s not so sure.
He may have to look at colleges in other states, he said, “because I don’t know how safe Kentucky is going to be.”
That breaks his heart.
“This is my home. I’ve connected more here than I have any other place I’ve lived,” he said, his voice cracking. “I feel like I finally belonged. And it really, really hurts that Kentucky doesn’t want me here.”
Why all the anti-LGBTQ legislation? Why now?
This session, Kentucky legislators introduced 11 anti-LGBTQ bills, according to an American Civil Liberties Union tracking site.
Nationwide, the ACLU is tracking more than 400 anti-LGBTQ bills. They threaten, among other rights, the freedoms of speech and expression, health care and civil rights, according to the ACLU.
Most states in the country have introduced at least one bill that targets the community, with multiple bills that specifically deal with gender-affirming care for minors.
Tennessee has a new law on the books that bans gender-affirming care for minors, as does South Dakota. And in Iowa, lawmakers want transgender students banned from using the bathrooms that don’t align with their sex at birth.
The ACLU has said Kentucky’s Senate Bill 150 is the worst anti-trans bill in the country.
Jackie McGranahan, a policy strategist with the ACLU of Kentucky, attributes this wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation to the fallout over abortion bans.
Last summer, the United States Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to an abortion. A Kentucky trigger law banned abortion immediately upon the ruling.
In November, voters rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have stated there was no inherent right to abortion in Kentucky’s Constitution.
In February, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled against an ACLU request to uphold an injunction that had briefly reinstated access to abortion in Kentucky, meaning the commonwealth’s six-week abortion ban remains intact as the case is litigated.
“The abortion conversation is off the table,” McGranahan said. The thinking among conservative legislators, she believes, is: “Let’s just move on down the line for additional social justice issues that will get us points nationally and get us attention.”
Republican and former legislator Bob Heleringer of Louisville echoed that. Kentucky, he said, is “copycatting other states.”
“I think there’s a feeling among some of these people that ‘we need to get on board with what they’re doing,’” said Heleringer, a lobbyist for the Fairness Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy organization.
Still, as a conservative, Heleringer said he thinks SB150 is a “travesty” and that it “disgraces the 23 years I put in” as a lawmaker in Frankfort.
“When I was in office, we were the pro-family party. We were pro-life,” he told the Lantern. “All human life is sacred. I mean, if you don’t believe that, you’re not a Republican. And it’s paramount for us. And this is saying that ‘some lives are sacred . . . others? It’s open season.’ And it’s just wrong.”
Still, it’s not strictly a partisan issue.
A retired Republican lawmaker testified in committee against anti-trans legislation, motivated by his transgender grandchild. Another Republican lobbied against what he called codified discrimination. A Republican senator voted against Senate Bill 150. A Democratic senator voted for it.
In a Senate floor speech explaining his “yes” vote, Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, called it hypocritical for anyone who supports abortion access to condemn the anti-trans bill.
Heleringer thinks Meredith was right to compare the two. You cannot be truly pro-life while attacking trans and LGBTQ kids, he said, calling both the unborn and trans children “totally innocent, totally defenseless.”
Anyone who doesn’t stick up for both is “not a consistent pro-lifer,” he said. “Both sides need to be consistent.”
When I was in office, we were the pro-family party. We were pro-life. All human life is sacred. I mean, if you don't believe that, you're not a Republican. And it's paramount for us. And this is saying that ‘some lives are sacred….others? It’s open season.’ And it's just wrong.
Chris Hartman, the executive director of Kentucky’s Fairness Campaign, said there were more anti-LGBTQ bills this session than the past 14 combined. He called the anti-LGBTQ bills a “slate of hate.”
“We didn’t pass any anti-LGBTQ bills in Kentucky for, pretty much, the past decade, with the exception of that trans sports bill last year,” he said.
But now, the “field map for gaining cheap political points is to demonize a group of people that most folks don’t have familiarity with, and they landed on trans folks.”
Kentucky has around 2,000 transgender youth ages 13-17, according to 2022 figures from the Williams Institute at University of California, Los Angeles School of Law (UCLA). There are 5,300 ages 18-24; 9,900 ages 25-64; and 2,400 who are 65 or older, UCLA found.
In the Southern region of the United States, of which Kentucky is part, there are 102,200 transgender youth and 523,600 transgender adults, according to UCLA data.
“All things we do have consequences.”
People in favor of anti-trans legislation expressed concern over minors’ inability to understand and consent to gender-affirming care.
House and Senate committees that passed anti-trans legislation heard from a person who de-transitioned after a bad experience.
Luka Hein, who has recently testified in other states in support of anti-transgender legislation, testified about receiving a double mastectomy — the removal of breasts — and going on testosterone at 16.
“As a result of this so-called gender affirming care, if it could even be called care, at only 21 I feel as if my body is falling apart,” Hein said. “I now deal with constant joint pain, ribbon spine damage, heart issues. My vocal cords will ache. I watched as my muscle mass wasted away. I don’t know if I will ever be able to carry a child.”
Regrets like Hein’s are rare, research suggests. A 2022 report from the International Journal of Transgender Health said regret surrounding gender affirming care is extremely low. Regret over top surgery could range from 0% to 4%, while it ranged from 0% to 8% for vaginoplasty. The National Library of Medicine reported in 2017 that one in seven people regretted non-trans-related surgeries — more than 14%.
Dr. Craig Anthony Losekamp, a Bowling Green physician, echoed this while testifying against anti-LGBTQ legislation in committee. Regret, he said, can happen over any medical procedure.
“I have had … a patient who had a knee surgery that went so wrong that it eventually not only ended up in their suicide, but it ended up in their spouse’s suicide,” he said. “All things we do have consequences.”
Loux said pressure wasn’t a factor in his own coming out and transition.
“Nobody pushed me into it,” he said. “I didn’t know a single trans person until after I came out.”
He spoke with a therapist for a year before even starting hormones, which then boosted his confidence and his grades. He had a supportive mother. “It wasn’t a decision made lightly.”
“I have never made a better decision in my life,” he said. “I have never been happier.”
Before coming out, he would break down just thinking about the future. Now, he feels emotionally stable.
“This is the right body for me,” he said. “This was the right choice. And I can actually see a future for myself now. I can see myself being happy.”
And, he said, he’s grateful for the community and the legislators who fought for him this session.
This is my home. I’ve connected more here than I have any other place I've lived. I feel like I finally belonged. And it really, really hurts that Kentucky doesn't want me here.
“Our kids are not freaks.”
Jeri Stine Hahn is one of many who came to the Kentucky Capitol this session to publicly defend transgender children.
She never got involved with the legislative session before this year. She never felt the need — she’s been an ally of the trans community, not an activist.
But when one of the worst anti-trans bills in the United States popped up in Kentucky, she headed to the Capitol to defend her trans daughter’s life and humanity.
In early March she sat in a committee room listening to doctors, therapists, activists and trans Kentuckians begged legislators — the first of two times — not to ban gender affirming care.
They were not successful, and the legislation that would ban gender-affirming care for transgender minors passed both the committee and the House. It later cleared a Senate committee as well, though the Senate voted narrowly to postpone consideration of it.
Despite that, an 11th-hour switch, which folded House Bill 470 language into another bill, resulted in both chambers passing a ban on gender affirming care for minors, among other things.
Hahn left that first House committee meeting, holding a sign that said “We love our transgender child.”
In the hall with a crowd of people who gathered to protest the bill, she chanted. Speaking out, she said then, felt cathartic.
In addition to protesting in person, Hahn also runs a support group on Facebook called Trans Parent Lex for parents and allies of transgender children.
“I can see where people are scared,” she said. But she thinks a lot of the fear around transitioning is based in ignorance and, in some cases, an unwillingness to learn.
“Our kids matter, and our kids are not freaks,” she said. “Our kids are lovely, and we love them.”
“I’m really, really scared.”
Before last week, Ray Loux had only ever been to the statehouse for Kentucky Youth Assembly.
Sitting in the gallery and listening to legislators debate what rights transgender minors should have, he wished he could go back to a time before he felt “hated by every person in that room.”
He never really considered himself an activist, either, until last week. He’d much rather be hanging out with his slew of animal friends — cats Ginger and Ozzy, axolotl Kevin and Bubbles, dogs Luna and Nova. The chickens, the rats, the peacocks.
“I’m so uncertain about the future and how this bill is going to affect me,” Loux said.
He worries about those who will suffer more than he will. And, he wonders if some will be “comfortable being bigots at school.”
“I’m really, really scared of the pushback,” he said. He’s also concerned about how the bill could affect his relationships with his teachers.
Loux believes kids all over Kentucky will suffer — and that some will die — as a direct result of SB150.
To think otherwise, he said, is naive.