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Kansas City considers becoming a transgender ‘safe haven’ in defiance of Missouri laws

Andrea Tudhope
KCUR 89.3
Dozens marched down Broadway for Kansas City's first trans pride march in June 2019.

The LGBTQ Commission has asked Kansas City to become a sanctuary city for the transgender community. Later this week, Missouri is restricting gender-affirming care for minors and adults.

LGBTQ advocates are pushing to make Kansas City a “safe haven” for the transgender community amid limits on gender-affirming care in Missouri.

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey issued emergency rules making it harder for both minors and adults to get gender-affirming care that are set to go into effect later this week. The move follows a push by state lawmakers to pass legislation barring care like puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapy for minors.

The Kansas City LGBTQ Commission recently released a letter urging city hall to pass legislation to declare the city a “safe haven” for gender-affirming care.

“There are several states, counties, and cities who have passed legislation codifying the right to receive and have access to gender-affirming care into law,” the commission said in its letter. “In the City of Kansas City, we must take every action at our disposal to be proactive, reduce harm, and ensure that Kansas Citians have access to life saving healthcare.”

The commission also sent letters to county prosecutors in Jackson, Clay, Platte and Cass Counties urging them to exercise prosecutorial discretion in enforcing anti-LGBTQ laws and Bailey’s emergency rules.

Councilwoman Andrea Bough said the city council is working on crafting a resolution that would protect Kansas City’s trans community. She said they are working to understand how much the city is legally allowed to do within the framework of the attorney general’s guidelines.

Because Kansas City does not have local control of its police department, Bough said they have to be careful wording the resolution.

“We can say to members of our community that we see you, we welcome you, and we will support you in every way that we can,” Bough said. “We will not let those who seek to harm you come to our communities and step on our jurisdiction and impose their will on us to the highest extent of our capabilities and our laws.”

Next Thursday’s meeting is the earliest the resolution can be introduced at city council, because it won’t meet this week.

With no clear path forward, the transgender community in Kansas City is anxiously waiting to see how the new rules will impact their care.

Keaton Vaughn, board president of the Kansas City Center for Inclusion, helps run the organization’s transgender support group, Equal. Vaughn said the upcoming regulations were all the group talked about at their Thursday meeting.

“People are upset. It's unclear what exactly it means. People have been reaching out to their medical providers to ask them, ‘Will I be able to continue receiving hormone replacement therapy?’” Vaughn said. “It seems like it's all just up in the air right now and so there's so much uncertainty.”

Vaughn said they have friends who are considering moving out of state to access care if it becomes unavailable in Missouri. Those friends may end up staying there, Vaughn said, because of other anti-trans bills in the state legislature.

The people who would suffer most under the new rules, Vaughn said, are those who already have a hard time accessing health care. They said some people may struggle to access transportation or have jobs that won’t allow them the time off to cross state lines to access medication.

“The bottom line is this affects all of our mental health. Everyone in the trans community. This is an attack on us directly,” Vaughn said. “It's taking away healthcare for minors and for adults, essential healthcare that allows us to live our lives. That's who we are.”

Vaughn said they support whatever can be done at a local level to protect gender-affirming care, including legislation designating Kansas City a safe haven. But with the emergency rules taking effect later this week, they said there will be time when that care is unprotected.

The Center for Inclusion is discussing launching a mutual aid fund to help people afford gender-affirming care, Vaughn said. Others in the trans community are organizing chaperoning networks to help people get to appointments if they have to move their care to Kansas.

Vivent Health, a nonprofit focused on serving people with HIV, has locations in Kansas City and St. Louis. Brandon Hill, the organization’s interim president and CEO, said even if the order is only temporary, it can still disrupt patients’ care.

“This could potentially scare providers who are already very limited in providing gender-affirming care," Hill said. “There's not a ton of folks in Missouri doing this, and it could discourage those from getting to continue to provide that for their patients.”

Hill noted that other states and cities have passed legislation establishing themselves as sanctuaries for gender-affirming care — and he said doing so is essential for trans people in Missouri. Many LGBTQ people across the state, he says, move to bigger cities like Kansas City and in St. Louis from surrounding areas looking for a welcoming, inclusive and affirming environment.

“We have been here for people who are experiencing discrimination in neighboring states and for LGBT and trans folks who want to come together and find resources and community — Kansas City's already that,” Hill said. “So this is really just putting pen to paper to ensure that.”

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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