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Gender-Affirming Care Ban in KY Could Have “Deadly Consequences,” Experts Warn

The bill passed the Republican-controlled state House of Representatives on Thursday with a veto-proof majority.

A person holds a Pride flag as others hold candles during a vigil on evening of Transgender Day of Remembrance, on November 11, 2022, in Wiles-Barre, Pennsylvania.

Health experts in Kentucky have sounded the alarm about a proposed bill that would ban gender-affirming care for transgender children in the state.

House Bill 470 is possibly the “the worst” piece of legislation in the country for LGBTQ people and could have “deadly consequences” if passed into law, LGBTQ advocates and medical experts say.

The bill would vaguely ban “gender-affirming services” for individuals under the age of 18 by broadly criminalizing almost any assistance to transgender or nonbinary youth, an action that is “tantamount to legislative malpractice,” T. Kerby Neill, a retired child psychologist, wrote in an op-ed for The Louisville Courier Journal.

As reporting from The Lexington Herald-Leader has noted, the bill “directly contradicts medical guidance” on treating transgender youth.

Gender-affirming care is not just limited to medication, which, contrary to Republicans’ claims, is safe and in most cases reversible. Treatment can also include conversations with a psychiatrist or a medical professional on how to conceal unwanted physical attributes without the need for surgery — care that can vastly improve mental health outcomes for trans youth and even save lives.

Advocates warn that the bill’s ambiguities could make it impossible for transgender children in the state to receive such care, and could even limit their ability to seek counsel from trusted adults in their circle.

“HB 470 would apply criminal penalties to anyone who helped a child struggling with gender identity issues,” wrote Linda Blackford, a columnist for The Lexington Herald-Leader. “In other words, it’s so broad and vague, that therapists, even a pastor or school counselor, speaking with a suffering child, possibly suicidal, could be seen as ‘assisting a person with a gender transition.'”

The bill passed the state House of Representatives on Thursday by a vote of 75-22, largely along party lines. That number is well above the threshold to defeat a potential veto from Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear. The bill now advances to the state Senate, where Republicans currently hold a commanding 30-7 majority over Democrats.

Experts told The Lexington Herald-Leader that the legislation seeks to erase transgender people altogether.

“What we are seeing is medical misinformation with these legislative efforts. … [It’s] denial and erasure” of LGBTQ people and their experiences, said Anthony Carney, a family medicine nurse practitioner for UK HealthCare who specializes in care for transgender and nonbinary patients at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.

The bill would lead to a “worsening of an LGBTQ+ mental health crisis” that could turn into a “public health emergency,” Carney added, noting that legislative attacks on LGBTQ rights are “already having a damaging effect on the mental health of trans folks” in the state.

Julie Cerel, the director of the University of Kentucky Suicide Prevention and Exposure Lab, agreed with Carney’s assessment.

“We know that if [trans youth] are not supported in their sexuality and in their preferred pronouns, that might be associated more with their mental health symptoms than just identifying as LGBTQ,” Cerel said, citing research confirming her view.

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