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How 2 gay Missouri legislators see a way forward after a session of attacks on LGBTQ rights

A man in a suit and tie holds a piece of paper and speaks into a microphone at a public event.
Tim Bommel
Missouri House Communications
Missouri Sen. Greg Razer, a Kansas City Democrat (above) and Rep. Chris Sander, Republican, are on opposite sides of the aisle. But both are gay legislators trying to find small victories after a session filled with bills attacking the LGBTQ community.

The Missouri Legislature proposed 48 Anti-LGBTQ bills this year, trailing only Texas, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Two openly gay lawmakers say the state has a long way to go toward making it a suitable environment for transgender residents.

Two gay lawmakers from Missouri — one Republican and one Democrat — are assessing the state's landscape for LGBTQ people after their fellow legislators proposed 48 bills categorized as anti-LGBTQ.

Among those that did not receive enough backing were bills making drag shows illegal and outlawing K-12 public school teachers and counselors from talking about LGBTQ people.

One proposal that did receive enough votes and is now awaiting Gov. Mike Parson’s signature would bar transgender youth from beginning gender-affirming care. After the Democratic Party held the floor in the Senate for a three-day filibuster, legislators changed some of the negative aspects of the bill, adding a grandfather clause for kids currently in treatment and a four-year sunset for a ban on hormone therapy.

The bill passed 108-50, with three Republicans joining Democrats who all opposed it.

Among those Republicans opposing the bill was Lone Jack Rep. Chris Sander, who is gay.

Sander said he tried to speak in opposition to the bills on the house floor, but House Speaker Dean Plocher, R-St. Louis, denied the request.

“I went to the speaker and wasn’t recognized as I was standing at my desk with my hand up for over half an hour,” Sander told KCUR's Up To Date. “I was given an opportunity by the Democrat Caucus to speak at a press conference, and it’s exactly what I told the speaker. Either I can speak on the floor, or I can speak to the press.”

Sander also overcame an effort by the Jackson County GOP to censor him.

The other two Republicans who opposed the bill were House Majority Leader Jon Patterson of Lee's Summit, who is a doctor, and Rep. Gary Bonacker of House Springs.

Kansas City Democratic Sen. Greg Razer said Republicans in Missouri needed a new boogeyman after tackling red-meat issues such as guns and abortion. This time, it was transgender children.

Among bills approved by the Legislature was a proposal requiring kids to participate in sports based on their gender assigned at birth. Razer said that last he checked, only five of the 311,000 Missouri students participating in junior high or high school sports are transgender.

Razer said legislators had legitimate questions about kids with “bigger-framed bodies” competing against girls. Still, he said, the bill takes away some kids’ opportunities to participate how they would like.

“That’s not a girl pretending to be a boy. It’s a boy,” Razer said. “He wants to play with other boys and do the things that all teenage boys do.”

Parson is expected to sign the legislation.

While the 2023 session revolved mainly around transgender issues related to children, there is a sense adults could be next. In April, Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey sought an emergency rule making it harder for transgender children and adults to access specific medical procedures.

The rule would have required five years of medical documentation of gender dysphoria for an individual to obtain puberty blockers and nine years of such documentation to obtain cross-sex hormones. Bailey withdrew the rule in early May after the legislature approved the ban on minors starting treatment.

Razer estimated 70% of Missourians disagree with him on transgender issues based on recent polling, but hoped that would be closer to a 50-50 split within the next 10 years and could flip soon after.

“I think the trans community is where the gay and lesbian community was about 30 years ago,” Razer said. “We have the playbook in front of us, and we know 30 years from now, people are gonna be embarrassed by this vote.”

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As KCUR's health reporter, I cover the Kansas City metro in a way that reflects our expanding understanding of what health means and the ways it touches different communities and different areas in distinct ways. I will provide a platform to amplify ideas and issues often underrepresented in the media and marginalized people and communities in an authentic and honest way that goes beyond the surface of the issues. I will endeavor to find and include in my work local experts and organizations that have their ears to the ground and a beat on the health needs of the community. Reach me at noahtaborda@kcur.org.
Hannah Cole is an intern with KCUR's Up To Date.
When I host Up To Date each morning at 9, my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. Reach me at steve@kcur.org or on Twitter @stevekraske.
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