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Kansas Legislature fails to pass gender-affirming health care ban over governor's veto

Sen. Mary Ware, seen during an April 6, 2023, hearing, says Senate Bill 233 tramples on the rights of transgender Kansans.
Sherman Smith
Kansas Reflector
Sen. Mary Ware, seen during an April 6, 2023, hearing, says Senate Bill 233 "tramples" on the rights of transgender Kansans.

Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed legislation that would have blocked teenagers from receiving hormone therapy and other gender-affirming treatments recognized as necessary by medical professionals. The Senate voted to override her veto, but the House fell short.

As the Kansas Legislature renewed its yearslong assault on transgender children, Sen. Mary Ware told her Senate colleagues Monday she had a “simple” question for them.

“What is the acceptable number of youth suicides?” Ware asked.

Ware’s question set the tone for debate in the Senate, which voted 27-13 to override Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of Senate Bill 233, legislation that would ban gender-affirming care for anyone younger than 18. But the override attempt fell short in the House on an 82-43 vote, two short of the two-thirds majority required.

The bill would have blocked teenagers from receiving hormone therapy and other treatments recognized as necessary by medical professionals. And it would have banned state employees from supporting “social transitioning,” which is defined to include an individual changing their preferred pronouns or manner of dress.

Rep. Susan Concannon, R-Beloit, and Rep. Jesse Borjon, R-Topeka, flipped their votes from earlier in the month to sustain the governor’s veto. Two other Republicans — Rep. Mark Schreiber of Emporia and Rep. David Younger of Ulysses — also joined Democrats in blocking the legislation from becoming law.

“We hear about mental health, about suicide, and ask why,” Concannon said. “We’re not listening to the impact of youth. Government involvement is not the answer.”

On the Senate side, Sen. John Doll, R-Garden City, and Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, joined the chamber’s 11 Democrats in supporting the veto.

Opponents of the bill pointed to extensive medical research that shows transgender children, who are already at an elevated risk for suicide, are more likely to die from suicide if they don’t receive gender-affirming care.

“This bill ignores, or should I say tramples, on the rights of some Kansas citizens to live peaceably, lawfully and free to make their own decisions about their own bodies,” Ware said.

Republicans argued the bill would protect children from life-altering decisions they could end up regretting.

Sen. Beverly Gossage, R-Eudora, said she receives “beautiful cards” and emails from parents who thank her for pursuing the legislation.

“We all sympathize to those who are suffering from gender dysphoria,” Gossage said.

Sen. Mark Steffen, R-Hutchinson, said the predators in today’s society are “woke” health care providers who are preying on “confused” children and parents.

“No more than we would ever tell somebody with anorexia that they’re fat would we tell a boy that they’re a girl or girl that they’re a boy,” Steffen said.

In a teary speech, Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes, D-Lenexa, said she has heard from hundreds of Kansans who see hormone treatment as a life raft — and are concerned the Legislature is about to rip that away.

Research consistently shows that supportive environments, including access to gender-affirming care, reduces the mental health risk for kids, Sykes said, while denying that care amplifies feelings of isolation, shame and hopelessness.

“So for our transgender community, I will say there are some, who, we are in your camp,” Sykes said. “We may not understand all the complexities that you go through, but you have a place in this state. And we accept you and we cherish you. And regardless of where this vote goes, there is someone who is here, who cares.”

The House delayed taking action as Republican leadership tried to secure enough votes to override the governor’s veto. Before closing the roll call, Republicans locked the chamber doors and issued a procedural declaration that requires every member to cast a vote, rather than abstain.

Borjon said he would support a ban on gender reassignment surgery and limits on the use of hormone blockers for minors. But for him, the bill went too far in restricting speech and behavioral health care for transgender youths.

Rep. Tobias Schlingensiepen, a Topeka Democrat and pastor, said it was clear the “politically motivated bill” would make the lives of trans kids and their families more difficult.

“It is clear to me that this Legislature would be choosing to interfere in the most sacred of relationships — between parents and children, between families and health care providers, and yes, between all of these people and their God,” Schlingensiepen said. “I am confident that zero Kansas residents who would be affected by this bill have asked for it to pass. On the contrary, they have instead been pleading for this legislature to reject this policy.”

The Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a certified listener, call 988.

Crisis Text Line is a texting service for emotional crisis support. To speak with a trained listener, text HELLO to 741741. It is free, available 24/7, and confidential.

This story was originally published by the Kansas Reflector.

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