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Kentucky lawmaker pre-files anti-trans bills including ‘bathroom bill’

A transgender flag billows in the breeze outside a building.
Torbakhopper
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Flickr

A Republican lawmaker has pre-filed two bills targeting transgender individuals, one of which includes a “bathroom bill” that previously failed in the Kentucky Legislature.

Rep. Bill Wesley from Ravenna pre-filed the bills ahead of the 2023 legislative session. One seeks to ban transgender people from using school bathrooms of their gender identity, and another bill would prevent doctors from identifying the sex of a child as any identity other than male or female. There is currently no sex identity marker other than male and female in any government document in Kentucky.

Wesley did not respond to requests for comment.

This isn’t the first time the “bathroom bill” measure has made it to the state Legislature. The first bill came in 2015 after North Carolina enacted a law that included bathroom-related restrictions for trans people, among other controversial provisions. It won the Kentucky Senate's approval but died in the Democrat-controlled House. Wesley’s draft bill is very similar to the language in the 2015 bill.

According to the draft, a transgender student would need written permission from their parents to use different facilities. And if a student were to run into "a person of the opposite biological sex" in a facility, parents could sue the school.

The second bill would prevent doctors from using "X" as a marker of sex on birth certificates, which would identify a child as nonbinary. Currently, no such option exists on official state documents. State law requires proof of gender-affirming surgery for someone to change their sex on their birth certificate. Oklahoma passed a similar measure this year.

Democratic Rep. Keturah Herron, from Louisville, said legislation like this could open the door for “further attacks on human rights as a whole.”

“We need our allies to understand that if anytime one group of people are being discriminated against and it’s allowed, then it leaves room for other people to be discriminated against,” she said.

The pre-filed bills come after a record number of bills targeting transgender people were introduced in the 2021 legislative session. The General Assembly passed a measure last year banning transgender girls as young as sixth grade from competing on girls and women’s sports teams in Kentucky.

The measure requires that athletes on women’s and girls sports teams in middle school, high school and college are labeled female on their birth certificates. It was similar to other GOP-backed measures that have passed in many other states.

Richard Nelson, executive director at the conservative think tank Commonwealth Policy Center, said previous bathroom bills weren’t as successful because “the time wasn’t ripe for it.”

“I think what we’ve seen in the last five years is that there has been an idea that individuals can determine their own gender, and this idea has gone mainstream. You’re seeing minors embrace this. We have no animus towards transgender people, but parents are concerned for their children’s safety, especially the safety of young girls,” he said.

Sex is part of a person’s identity related to their physical, chromosomal and hormonal characteristics and includes female, male and intersex. Gender refers to an internal and social identity that does not necessarily align with sex, but sometimes does.

Language that implies threats to children’s safety has shown up in similar bills in other states and has been thoroughly debunked. A 2018 study from the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law reports there is no evidence behind increased safety risks due to transgender people using public facilities that align with their gender identity.

Data showing the rise in children identifying as transgender or nonbinary could be owed to growing acceptance from parents, doctors and peers as a result of which young people are becoming increasingly comfortable coming out of the closet and transitioning.

Herron said this type of proposal was a misplacement of resources and said “hate legislation that would make room for hate violence.”

“What we do know is that LGBTQ+ groups are at risk of mental health issues, they’re at risk of suicide, so if they really want to protect kids in general they need to put in resources for mental health services and measures that are going to make our communities and our schools safe,” she said.

The Fairness Campaign’s executive director Chris Hartman said while the “bathroom bill” failed in Kentucky in 2015, it’s a lightning rod moment for anti-trans legislation further sparked by the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision on equal marriage.

“National conservative think tanks needed to find a different LGBTQ+ issue with which they could divide people, and they seized upon transgender rights. All of this is for political points and political posturing, none of this is a real priority in our state,” he said.

Hartman says while Wesley’s proposed bills are working drafts, it’s probably one of many bills the state legislature could consider that impact transgender rights in the state.

“This is the tip of the iceberg. We’ll see many bills that either target the LGBTQ+ community or specifically target trans kids this legislative session. This is all part of a marked increase across the nation for a problem that doesn’t exist,” he said.

Divya is Kentucky Public Radio's Capitol Reporter. Email Divya at dkarthikeyan@lpm.org.