Kelly vetoes Kansas ban on gender transition surgery, hormone therapy for trans youth

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly on Friday vetoed a bill that would ban transgender minors from receiving gender transition surgeries and hormone therapy, setting up another veto override fight over efforts to regulate the lives of trans residents.

Kelly, a Democrat, described the legislation passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature as divisive, saying it targets a small group of Kansans by placing government mandates on them. The bill, she said, dictates to parents how to best raise and care for their children, adding that is not a “conservative value, and it’s certainly not a Kansas value.”

“To be clear, this legislation tramples parental rights,” Kelly said in a statement.

“The last place that I would want to be as a politician is between a parent and a child who needed medical care of any kind. And, yet, that is exactly what this legislation does,” Kelly said. “If the legislature paid this much attention to the other 99.8% of students, we’d have the best schools on earth.”

Kelly last year vetoed four Republican-led bills that imposed restrictions on trans residents, dictating their access to public accommodations and access to health care. Those included a measure banning transgender athletes competing in women’s sports, and another barring transgender people from single-sex spaces.

Republicans overrode Kelly’s veto on three of those bills, but could not garner enough votes to restrict gender-affirming care for minors, coming just one vote short.

Supporters of the legislation this year flipped key Republicans who had previously voted against it. This time, the measure passed in the Senate 27-13 with a veto-proof majority. The House vote was still two votes short of a veto-proof margin. But if two House Republicans who were absent from the initial floor vote now vote to override, the House would gain the two-thirds majority necessary.

Sen. Mike Thompson, a Shawnee Republican, sponsored the legislation. He said it is likely the bill will reach the two-thirds majority necessary to override the veto. The bill would protect children who may be coached into receiving gender-affirming care before they fully understand its permanent consequences, he said.

“We just want to give these kids a fighting chance to really think about and understand what they’re doing,” Thompson said. “And I think in a lot of cases, they’re being rushed into a situation that they don’t understand. They think it’s going to help and then realize later that it’s not, and that’s a very sad situation because there’s no reversing once you start down that path.”

The bill is further-reaching and far more dangerous than last year’s legislation, opponents say. It outlines a civil cause of action against health care providers who give children hormones or provide surgeries, kicks out providers who perform gender-affirming services from utilizing liability insurance and prohibits the use of state funding to “promote gender transitioning.”

Taryn Jones, a lobbyist for Equality Kansas, has fought against similar legislation for years. She said she’s grateful for Kelly’s willingness to defend trans youth in the state, and that her veto gives them a fighting chance at defeating this legislation.

“Last year the health care bill passed and without her, it would have been law,” she said. “It’s so important – especially for young people who don’t have a lot of hope right now – to see a governor who is willing to stand behind them despite what the Legislature is doing.”

Twenty-two states, including Missouri, ban gender-affirming care for minors. The Kansas bill is the latest in a series of nearly 500 Republican bills targeting transgender individuals across the country, according to an American Civil Liberties Union bill tracker.

Opponents of the legislation warn this year’s bill restricting gender-affirming care is far worse than last year’s, and that it will cause irreversible damage to transgender youth.

Elise Flatland is a Wichita mother of two transgender children aged 11 and 15. She recently told The Star that if the bill is enacted in Kansas, she would leave the state and move to an area where her children could access gender-affirming care.

She said the health care saved the life of her 11-year-old, who was suicidal before he received treatment.

“If this passes, I would have to get medical treatment for my kids elsewhere,” she said. “ I have the means to do that at this point, and I will. If it was unsafe here, we would leave. And that’s what these laws do, they challenge the safety of my kids.”

The bill includes unclear language, opponents say. The bill says that “state employees” who work with children may not promote a trans child’s social transition, meaning they could be barred from using a minor’s preferred pronouns or allow them to dress in accordance with their gender identity.

Because “state employees” is undefined, it’s unclear whether it would prohibit people like public school teachers, social workers and foster care workers from supporting a minor’s social transition.

D.C. Hiergert, an attorney who is the LGBTQ+ fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, said that while it’s clear the legislation would restrict gender-affirming care for transgender individuals under 18, there is a lot of gray area in the bill that would make other effects unclear.

“It doesn’t just restrict that gender-affirming care,” Hiegert said. “It has language that could impact mental health care funding, and language that would prevent trans children’s ability to wear the clothing they feel comfortable in or use the pronouns they feel good using.”

“Those are the parts of the bill that are written extremely broadly and we’re concerned about. There’s potential to be misinterpreted, or to cause fear among the community or be used in wrong ways by bad actors,” Hiegert continued.