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Kansas lawmakers are again considering banning gender-affirming care for trans youth

Students from Crossroads Preparatory Academy and their supporters march toward the Jackson County Courthouse on Wednesday morning to protest anti-LGBTQ legislation in the Missouri legislature on April 13, 2022.
Carlos Moreno
Two bills would ban puberty blockers, hormone therapy and gender-affirming surgeries for Kansans under 18.

Transgender Kansans and their advocates packed Statehouse committee rooms to urge lawmakers to reject proposed legislation that they say would harm LGBTQ youth.

Transgender and nonbinary youth in Kansas would lose access to medical care they say is lifesaving — and critics say they might regret — if proposed legislation becomes law.

The two bills heard in legislative committees Thursday represent state lawmakers’ latest attempt to prevent doctors from providing gender-affirming care to teens and kids experiencing gender dysphoria. Republicans failed to pass similar legislation last year, but succeeded in restricting transgender people’s participation in sports and blocking them from changing the gender marker on their state identification.

The moves are part of a nationwide wave of legislation targeting gender-affirming care and other transgender rights.

Transgender Kansans, their advocates and medical professionals eviscerated those supporting the bills at hearings in Senate and House committees. Several were thrown out of the House hearing by health committee chair Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican, for what she considered disruptions.

“If it becomes law, there will be consequences,” said Jaelynn Abegg, a transgender woman from Wichita who was Landwehr’s Democratic challenger in the 2022 election.

“As children begin to die around us, it sickens me that most of this Legislature will be patting themselves on the back with their bloodied red hands,” she added before Landwehr told her to sit down.

The first bill, introduced by Coffeyville Republican Rep. Ron Bryce, would ban the range of currently standard gender-affirming care for Kansas teens and kids, including puberty blockers, hormone replacement therapy and surgeries.

Testifying for the bill, Bryce likened the care to the practice of lobotomy — a medical practice that was, he said, mainstream before being discredited.

“The parallel with lobotomy was meant to be disturbing because I feel disturbed about this issue,” Bryce said in response to a question from Rep. Susan Ruiz, a Shawnee Democrat, at the House hearing.

The second bill, introduced by Landwehr, would ban gender-affirming surgeries for youth. It would also restrict hormone replacement therapy for Kansans of all ages by requiring doctors to follow clinical practice guidelines outlined in a 2017 journal article by the Endocrine Society.

Those guidelines are outdated, according to Amanda Mogoi, a Wichita nurse practitioner who treats transgender patients at her clinic M-Care. And, she said, it’s rare for those under 18 to undergo gender-affirming surgery.

She was among several medical experts who said the restrictions would have wide-reaching consequences for trans youth who are already marginalized and experience higher rates of mental illness and suicide. Nationally, all major medical groups support gender-affirming care for youth with gender dysphoria.

Asher Wickell, a Wichita marriage and family therapist who testified against the first bill, said it would prevent licensed clinical providers in the state from practicing ethically — potentially causing some to leave the state.

“This is not only a bill that would kill our children and impact our families,” he said. “This will drive away from practice, or from the state, the doctors and the nurses in your hometown hospital, the therapists in your community mental health center, your emergency room, and those of your constituents.”

D.C. Hiegert, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, said it would also violate Kansans’ constitutional rights.

“This bill would set a precedent in Kansas that medical providers should not give you the nationally recommended best medical care available, but instead give you the medical care politicians decide you should have access to,” Hiegert said.

A group of largely out-of-state supporters of the bills said allowing minors to receive gender-affirming medical care is harmful and puts them at risk of regretting their decision in the future.

Among the supporters was Jamie Reed, a former St. Louis gender center worker who went public last year with claims of misprescribing and other issues at the center. Her allegations spurred Missouri lawmakers to enact a sweeping ban on gender-affirming care for youth later that year.

“I saw many children receive so-called gender-affirming care that ended up leading to significant harms and poor outcomes,” she told lawmakers. “We had patients, in my tenure, detransition. We had patients, in my tenure, have total, radical mastectomies and express regret within months.”

Chloe Cole, an activist from California who campaigns against youth gender-affirming care, said she’s permanently scarred from receiving hormone replacement therapy and a double mastectomy before she was 18.

“I fell victim to gender ideology. This ideology targets kids like me who are different, who are on the autistic spectrum, or struggling with puberty, trauma and forming their identity as they grow into adults,” she said. “We need to stop the medical industry from taking advantage of these kids, the same way I have been.”

Medical experts said youth can only receive medical interventions with parental consent in Kansas, and doctors only consider providing it after patients obtain mental health care and other support.

The proposals were debated after the Legislature’s turnaround deadline, but could still be enacted if lawmakers substitute their language for other bills. Last year, Senate Republicans fell one vote short of overriding a veto of a similar proposal by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly.

Rose Conlon reports on health for KMUW and the Kansas News Service.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

Rose Conlon is a reporter based at KMUW in Wichita, but serves as part of the Kansas News Service, a partnership of public radio stations across Kansas. She covers health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.
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