A Kansas senator heard debate on an anti-trans bill after short notice for the public to prepare

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TOPEKA — Kansas advocates for trans rights spoke out Thursday against Republicans’ latest attempt at restricting access to gender-affirming care and criticized a state senator for giving short notice on a hearing to those who would be most affected if the proposal becomes law. 

Transgender Kansans had two days to pull together testimony on the legislation. The meeting location was moved, which made attending harder for anyone who wanted to rebut a bevy of mainly out-of-state anti-transgender lobbyists.

Activists complained of a lack of transparency, only notified Tuesday that they would be allowed to speak at the meeting alongside a lineup of opponents.

“It’s an intentional effort to ensure people are confused,” said Iridescent Riffel, a transgender woman and LGBTQ rights activist, who worked within the short deadline to prepare her testimony. 

Sen. Beverly Gossage, a Eudora Republican, who chairs the Senate Public Health and Welfare committee, called an informational hearing on the so-called “forbidding abuse child transitions act,” a piece of house legislation scheduled to be heard in committee for the first time Thursday afternoon. 

Gender-affirming care for youths is supported by health care organizations including American Medical Association and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, which say banning gender-affirming care for transgender minors is damaging and not rooted in science. 

Sen. Pat Pettey, D-Kansas City, spoke against the unusual method. Bills are typically passed from one chamber to another following action on the legislation. 

“I am disappointed that we’re using our valuable committee time to have an informational hearing on a bill that has not passed in the House, has not even been introduced in the Senate,” Pettey said. “We have many more important issues like Medicaid expansion that we could use in our committee time. I want to voice my opposition to this use of our valuable time.” 

Gossage argues that no one in the state Legislature has it out for the state’s transgender youth. Banning gender-affirming care for those under 18, a step warned against by transgender Kansans and medical professionals, is simply about protecting the children in her opinion. 

Similar legislation essentially banning gender-affirming care for Kansans under the age of 18 was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, and a veto override attempt failed during the last legislative session. 

“My concern is always going to be for the children,” Gossage said. “Let me just say, I know of no one who voted for this bill last year who is targeting the transgender community. We just feel that when you’re an adult, you can make any decision you like. You can present yourself any way you like, that’s your rights. However, somebody needs to protect the children.”

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Encapsulated as House Bill 2791, the legislation which would ban any organization that receives state funds from recommending gender-affirming care for transgender Kansans under the age of 18. The state’s medical assistance program would be blocked from providing coverage for gender-affirming care for these minors, among other provisions.

“There’s so many potential steps,” Gossage said when asked about the bill’s future. “This was just an informational briefing and it remains to be seen.” 

Cat Poland, mother of a transgender child, told of the harm her son experienced before he began gender-affirming care, raniging from suicidal thoughts to self harm.

“HB 2791 is called the forbidding abusive child transitions act and that breaks my heart,” Poland said. “I am not a perfect mother, but I’m certainly not an abusive one. When I asked my son about this bill, he said it would have been abusive not to help me.” 

Transgender youth face heightened risk of suicide. The Trevor Project estimated that more than 1.8 million LGBTQ+ youth consider suicide every year in the U.S. In a 2023 study, the project found that roughly half of transgender and nonbinary youth surveyed had seriously contemplated suicide. Despite heightened risks, lawmakers in red states continue to strip away protections for transgender people. 

Many transgender Kansans have repeatedly told lawmakers of the importance of gender-affirming care and warned against repeated attempts to restrict the state’s transgender community. Protestors were ready with transgender flags and signs right outside of the committee doors. 

Riffel had one other message for lawmakers who advance anti-transgender legislation, after listing the names of those killed due to LGBT hate during her testimony: “In the future, please know that their blood is on your hands.” 

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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