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Anti-trans ‘parents' rights’ bill advances in Kentucky legislature

Flickr | torbakhopper

This story mentions suicide. If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, you can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by phone at 988, or online at https://988lifeline.org/

You can also contact the Trevor Project, which provides free, confidential counselors who specialize in helping LGBTQ youth.

Kentucky schools wouldn’t be able to require staff to use the correct pronouns for trans and nonbinary students under a bill that advanced out of a state legislative committee on Thursday.

It’s a measure LGBTQ advocates say is dangerous to the mental health of trans children.

Sen. Max Wise, a Republican from Campbellsville and sponsor of the measure, said it’s needed to protect teachers’ and students’ “freedom of speech rights by not forcing them to use nonconforming pronouns requested by other students.”

Senate Bill 150 would prohibit school districts and the Kentucky Department of Education from issuing requirements “for the use of pronouns that do not conform to a student's biological sex as indicated on the student's original, unedited birth certificate issued at the time of birth.”

KDE would be barred even from issuing non-mandatory recommendations on the subject.

Wise previously said he brought the measure as a response to KDE guidance that advised schools to be conscious of not misgendering students. Wise and other conservatives pejoratively describe this type of inclusive guidance as part of a “woke agenda,” and an affront to “parental rights.”

Wise is the running mate of Republican gubernatorial candidate Kelly Craft, who has made education culture war issues central to her platform and has publicly said she wants to “dismantle” the state department of education..

LGBTQ advocates who spoke against the bill during the Senate Education Committee hearing said the measure was dangerous and even deadly.

Laurie Grimes, a pediatric psychologist with the Kentucky Psychological Association, said her organization opposes the bill.

“The harassment of daily misgendering is dehumanizing and will levy a toxic and sometimes deadly tax on youth mental health,” Grimes said.

Many studies show rates of depression, anxiety and suicide are higher among LGBTQ youth. Grimes said that’s because of the “crushing toll of being marginalized in society.”

“You are practicing child sacrifice in order to get votes,” former Jefferson County Public Schools teacher Bobbie Glass told the committee. Glass, who is transgender, works with LGBTQ students hospitalized for suicidal ideation.

“Every day I work with kids who are trying to kill themselves,” she said. “That’s why I left the hospital. I want to confront the monsters putting them there.”

The bill would also require schools to give parents two weeks’ notice of any curriculum that discusses human sexuality, allow parents to inspect the materials, and give them the option to opt their child out of the lesson.

Parents would be able to opt out of any health services offered at school under the bill, including any mental health services, like counseling. It would also require schools to give parents access to any health or mental health records.

Opponents worry that provision could discourage LGBTQ students from seeking services, as well as students who are victims of abuse at home.

Mason Chernosky, who is trans, told the committee he shied away from counseling as a child over fears the school would out him to his parents.

“I think this bill would be dangerous for the mental health of children across Kentucky,” he said. “I was one of those children whose mental health would have been harmed by this bill.”

Despite testimony, the committee passed the vote along party lines.

Democratic Sen. Reginald Thomas was the only “no” vote.

“I understand and appreciate the importance of parent advocacy,” he said, adding that he’s more worried about the impacts on children.

“Children have died from the disrespect and the abuse that they’ve encountered as transgender children.”

As senators took their vote, their colleague, Democratic Sen. Karen Berg was in the room. Berg’s son Henry Berg-Brousseau testified before lawmakers as a student against anti-trans legislation in 2015.

He died by suicide in December at the age of 24.

“I wanted each and everyone of them to take that vote with me in the room,” Berg told reporters after the vote.

The measure is one of a flurry of bills targeting LGBTQ children filed this session.

Support for this story was provided in part by theJewish Heritage Fund.

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Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.