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Kansas City declares itself a 'safe haven' for gender-affirming health care as Missouri restricts access

A group of people are clapping. One person in the middle is holding a piece of legislation.
Celisa Calacal
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas signed the resolution declaring the city to be a safe haven for gender-affirming care on Thursday. He was joined by Councilwoman Andrea Bough and members of Kansas City's LGBTQ+ community.

Kansas City Council passed a resolution declaring the city a safe haven for gender-affirming care and making enforcement of state bans a low priority.

Just a day after the Missouri legislature approved a ban on gender-affirming care, Kansas City passed a policy offering safe haven to the transgender community.

The Kansas City Council on Thursday voted 11-1 to pass a resolution that declares the city a safe haven for gender-affirming care and adopts an official policy on gender-affirming care. The policy now stands in defiance of recent Missouri actions to restrict the rights of transgender people and their ability to access the healthcare they need.

On Wednesday, the Missouri legislature passed bills banning gender-affirming care — like puberty blockers, hormone therapy and gender transition surgery — for kids under 18. The legislature also passed a bill banning transgender athletes from playing on the sports team that aligns with their gender identity, up to the collegiate level.

The state bills now head to Gov. Mike Parson’s desk. He is expected to sign them into law.

The city measure was sponsored by Mayor Quinton Lucas, 4th District Councilman Eric Bunch and 6th District-at-Large Councilwoman Andrea Bough.

JD Bezares serves on Kansas City’s LGBTQ Commission and the board of Transformations KC, an organization dedicated to trans youth and trans communities of color. 

“We wanted to be sure that kids and trans adults have access to healthcare,” he said. “We believe it's a human right and that the state, nor anyone else for that matter, shouldn’t legislate healthcare.”

Kansas City’s gender-affirming care policy applies only to city staff and city agencies. It directs city employees to not criminally prosecute or penalize a person or organization for providing, seeking, receiving or helping someone get gender-affirming health care.

The policysays enforcement of any state laws that bans gender-affirming health care and includes punishments for people who provide or receive it is the “lowest priority” for city staff.

“This would be a direction to the director of public health, for example, to say, if you have regulatory responsibility over a facility where someone either may receive care or someone presents as trans, and the Missouri Legislature or the Attorney General have ordered that you limit their ability to continue to conduct such behavior, this would say to not enforce that or to not proceed on that,” Lucas said.

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said in a statement that she supports Kansas City’s actions.

“We will continue to take all legal and appropriate steps under Missouri law to protect trans people — who are increasingly targeted for violence and exploitation,” Baker said in a statement. “Rather than focusing on criminalizing trans individuals, the criminal justice system should seek to protect them.”

Belfast Blackstar, a local educator, said the resolution is a great first step for the city to take in protecting the trans community.

“I had no idea like two weeks ago that something like this would be discussed or even happen,” he said. “I think a lot of us were feeling very downtrodden and just very beaten down. So I'm hoping that this gives the trans community hope.”

The resolution encourages the Kansas City Police Department to adopt a similar policy. Because the KCPD is under state control, Kansas City’s gender-affirming care policy does not apply to the department. The Board of Police Commissions, of which Mayor Lucas is a member, would have to adopt a similar policy.

Lucas said Thursday that he, Bunch and Bough plan to send a letter to the police board asking them to follow Kansas City’s actions. 

“A priority for the Kansas City Police Department is not standing between patients and their physician, is not standing between decisions that are made by families,” Lucas said. “I believe that the Board of Police Commissioners should follow what we are doing today. I think it only makes sense, and in a city that has issues ranging from violent crimes and nuisance crimes, humans are not crimes.”

Republicans in Missouri and nationwide have been pursuing legislation attacking the rights of trans people, like the ability to access life-saving, gender-affirming care. But major medical associations like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association support gender-affirming health care.

Benjamin Grin, chief medical officer for Kansas City, debunked several myths that Republicans have pushed around gender-affirming care. He told council members Wednesday that puberty blockers and hormone therapy are safe and that rates of detransition are low.

“The last (myth) is that gender affirming care restrictions are about protecting kids,” Grin said, “In fact, protecting kids requires protecting access to treatments that improve physical and mental health and prevent suicide.”

Grin said the resolution is the strongest legal action the city can currently take.

Heather Hall, who represents the 1st District, was the lone no vote. She said conversations about gender-affirming care should happen between a person and their health care provider.

“This is us getting out of our lane and trying to get in some lane we don't have the expertise for,” she said.

Bough said the policy is a response to state legislative action. At the start of the legislative session in January, Missouri led the nation in the number of bills targeting the transgender community.

“I don't think they should be in this area,” Bough said. “We are only in this area because they have chosen to be in this area, and we are standing up for members of our community to protect them.”

Bunch said he’s heard from parents who are afraid their trans children will not be able to get the care they need.

“I'm concerned about protecting our children, and this is a protection of children,” Bunch said. “I don't want to have people feel like they have to move away to receive their care, or parents to feel that their kids are in danger.”

In April, Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey issued an emergency order restricting gender-affirming health care for transgender adults and minors. Those restrictions were scheduled to go into effect April 27, until a St. Louis County judge ordered a pause on the rule. The American Civil Liberties Union in Missouri, Lambda Legal and the law firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner filed a lawsuit challenging Bailey’s emergency order.

Donato Fatuesi is the social media organizer for Transformations KC, the group supporting trans people of color. She was overjoyed to see the resolution pass. She said the organization has received more than 600 messages from people who are scared about anti-trans policies.

Fatuesi said Kansas City’s resolution will provide relief to many people. 

“I think with everything that's been happening across our legislatures and the attack on trans rights, that this is a glimmer of hope for us,” she said. “We know that the work is not yet done, but that here in Kansas City, we made a loud statement.”

As KCUR’s Missouri politics and government reporter, it’s my job to show how government touches every aspect of our lives. I break down political jargon so people can easily understand policies and how it affects them. My work is people-forward and centered on civic engagement and democracy. I hold political leaders and public officials accountable for the decisions they make and their impact on our communities. Follow me on Twitter @celisa_mia or email me at celisa@kcur.org.
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