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After passionate opposition, Ky. lawmakers advance anti-trans pronouns legislation

A woman behind a microphone speaking with her fist raised.
Democratic Sen. Karen Berg urged her GOP colleagues not to pass a measure that would allow teachers to misgender students.

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.

Despite impassioned pleas from a grieving fellow lawmaker, the Kentucky Senate passed a bill that would codify the right of school staff to misgender trans and nonbinary students.

Senate Bill 150 prohibits schools from requiring staff and students to refer to students by their “preferred” pronouns, if those pronouns don’t match the gender on their birth certificate.

Dubbed a “parents’ rights” measure by its sponsor Republican Sen. Max Wise, the bill also requires schools to give families two weeks notice before any lesson on human sexuality. In addition, it would also allow parents to inspect the curriculum and withdraw their child from the lesson — rights that already exist under state and federal law. Finally, the measure requires schools to give parents specific notifications about any mental health or physical health services that touch on human sexuality, contraception and family planning.

Wise said the pronouns provision protects teachers’ First Amendment rights.

“The terms ‘he’ and ‘she’ communicate fixed facts about a person, and teachers should not be forced to violate their consciences regarding what they know to be true or not true,” Wise said on the Senate floor.

Sen. Karen Berg, a Democrat, rose quickly to oppose the measure.

“Your vote ‘yes’ on this bill means one of two things: Either you believe that trans children do not exist, or you believe that trans children do not deserve to exist,” Berg said.

Berg pointed to research that LGBTQ advocates and medical experts have provided to lawmakers, showing that misgendering trans and nonbinary children is linked to mental health issues like depression, anxiety and suicide.

Berg’s son Henry Berg-Brousseau was trans and died by suicide in December, at age 24.

“I am no longer speaking for my child. You know my child is dead,” Berg said haltingly. “So I am speaking for every mother and father who has held my hand with tears running down their face saying, ‘What do we do?’”

Despite Berg’s pleas, the GOP-led body passed the measure 29-6 in a party-line vote.

Sen. Stephen Meredith, the sole Republican to vote “no” on the measure in committee earlier in the day, was not present for the floor vote.

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

News LGBTQ+ EquityYouth Reporting
Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.

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