SB 150: KY legislature easily overrides Gov. Beshear’s veto of gender-affirming care ban bill

The Republican-dominated Kentucky General Assembly acted swiftly Wednesday to override Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto of the controversial Senate Bill 150, which bans gender-affirming care for trans youth.

The override began Wednesday in the Senate, the chamber of origin, with a 29-8 vote. Just one Republican voted to oppose overriding the veto.

The House followed quickly behind, overriding the veto 76-23. Four Republicans voted to oppose the measure, and one Democrat voted for it.

Throughout the override votes, the cries of hundreds of anti-SB 150 protesters who flocked to the Capitol to denounce the bill could be heard in throughout the building’s marble halls.

In the House, the Kentucky State Police forcibly removed several protesters gallery and arrested 19 on charges of third-degree criminal trespassing. The House proceeded with discussion on the bill over loud chants from the gallery as it became apparent the override would succeed.

In addition to banning puberty-blockers, hormones and surgeries for kids under 18, Senate Bill 150 would also ban lessons on gender identity and sexual orientation, prevents trans students from using the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity and stops school districts from requiring teachers use a student’s pronouns if they don’t align with their sex assigned at birth.

The bill has been called the most “extreme” and “worst” anti-LGBTQ piece of legislation in the country by pro-LGBTQ rights groups including the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the ACLU of Kentucky and the Trevor Project. Many of those same organizations were quick to praise Beshear’s veto.

In his veto message Friday, Beshear cited statistics on youth mental health and suicide, including that nearly 1 in 5 trans or nonbinary youth have attempted suicide, according to the Trevor Project.

“Improving access to gender-affirming care is an important means of improving health outcomes for the transgender population,” Beshear wrote. “Senate Bill 150 will cause an increase in suicide among Kentucky’s youth.”

Republicans have denounced Beshear’s veto, saying it shows he’s out of touch with Kentuckians and aligned with the far-left. Progressive groups, like the pro-LGBTQ rights organization the Fairness Campaign, have praised the governor’s decision, saying he made the right decision.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Max Wise, a Campbellsville Republican and lieutenant governor running mate of GOP gubernatorial candidate Kelly Craft, a former ambassador to Canada and the United Nations.

“I’ve had countless number of people coming up to me from both sides of the aisle to say, ‘Thank you for standing up for common sense. Thank you for standing up and being willing to stand in that gap, to be willing to take whatever it is is thrown our way,’’ Wise said on the Senate floor. “If it’s hit jobs from newspaper activists, if it is for standing up for parents, for those that do not show up here in committee meetings to testify because they’re working and because they are also dependent upon us in a representative democracy, that we can make common sense decisions here that protect our children.”

‘This fight is not over’

The fiercest opponent of the anti-LGBTQ legislation that has domination the 2023 legislative session has been Sen. Karen Berg, D-Louisville.

For Berg, the issue is deeply personal.

Her 24-year-old son, Henry Berg-Brousseau, died by suicide in December. He was trans, had previously come to the Kentucky Capitol as a teen to oppose anti-trans legislation and went on to work for the Human Rights Campaign.

Berg began her speech against SB 150 by reading from the final statement her son released for the HRC before his death.

“The last thing my child wrote to anybody and published it to the world,” Berg said. “’Because our lives are quite literally on the line.’”

Berg, who is also a physician, said calling this a bill “protecting children is completely disingenuous.”

“And to call this a parents’ right is an absolute despicable affront to me personally,” she said. “We are denying families, their physicians and their therapists, the right to make medically informed decisions for their families.”

She ended by addressing anyone watching the Senate proceedings: “This fight is not over. ... We will get this right for you. Give us time, and don’t do anything drastic.”

All six of Berg’s Democratic colleagues joined her in voting against the veto override, as well as Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Becton, who had previously tried to soften the anti-trans language in a similar bill.

“In the midst of all this, my fear, my no vote, is for those kids that are being left out. Those kids that may be contemplating suicide, may need to delay puberty. That can have a huge impact on them,” Carroll said. “We’re not doctors, with the exception of a couple of us, we’re not doctors. I trust them to make the right decisions when they’re dealing with those kids in those specific instances.”

Outcry in the House chamber

The protest against the bill came to a crescendo when dozens of protesters sitting in the House gallery began to chant in unison as that chamber took up the vote to override Beshear’s veto.

Chaos ensued, as the House briefly paused its business over the group yelling “trans rights are human rights” among other repeated chants. After a moment, the House proceeded to vote on and discuss the bill, which received near-unanimous support by the legislature’s GOP contingent.

They also recited a chant referencing Berg’s transgender son, Henry, as well as the shooting death of Louisville transgender woman Zachee Imanitwitaho this year.

“Henry, Zachee — they should be with us today,” the group yelled.

It took around half an hour for protesters to be removed from the chamber, as security and Kentucky State Police troopers initially struggled in their attempt. They eventually cuffed the protesters, who had locked arms in their seats, with zip ties.

No Republican in the House spoke over the cries of the protesters. Democrats, who largely voted against the veto override, expressed sympathy with the group.

Louisville Democratic Rep. Pamela Stevenson, who is also running for attorney general this year, said that the bill goes against “parents’ rights,” which has been a common rallying cry among conservatives this session, saying, “You’re going after everybody’s kids but your own.”

Gesturing to the protesters, Stevenson asked, “You have to ask yourselves the question: ‘why would they be doing that?’”

This is hate legislation. We will be judged in the annals of history for what we’re doing today. I, for one, will sleep with a clear conscience tonight,” said Rep. Chad Aull, D-Lexington.

In the House, the four Republicans voting against overriding the veto were: Rep. Kim Moser, Rep. Kim Banta, Rep. Stephanie Dietz and Rep. Killian Timoney. One Democrat, Rep. Ashley Tackett Laferty, voted in support of the override.

A ‘shameful attack’

In a statement, Fairness Campaign Executive Director Chris Hartman said the legislation was the “worst anti-trans bill in the nation,” and suggested that it would be challenged in court soon.

“While we lost the battle in the legislature, our defeat is temporary,” Hartman said in a statement. “We will not lose in court. And we are winning in so many other ways. Thousands of Kentucky kids came to the Capitol today to make their voices heard against the worst anti-trans bill in the nation.”

ACLU of Kentucky Executive Director Amber Duke called the override a “shameful attack on LGBTQ youth.”

Duke noted that while an “emergency” clause was applied to some sections of the bill, the health care ban provisions will not go into effect until late June, so trans youth can still receive care until then.

”To all the trans youth who may be affected by this legislation: we stand by you, and we will not stop fighting. You are cherished. You are loved. You belong,” Duke said in her statement. “To the commonwealth: we will see you in court.”

Tamarra Wieder, Kentucky State Director for Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates, called the law a “stain on Kentucky.”

“Every elected official who voted for SB 150 is on the wrong side of history,” Wieder said. “Let me be clear: Trans people will not be erased, not today, not ever. The youth spoke today and have promised to replace you tomorrow. Believe it.”

The Kentucky Democratic Party denounced Republican lawmakers for overriding the veto instead of “taking action to help Kentuckians.”

“Kentucky children will die because the Republican majority chose to override this veto. This bill risks the lives and well being of some of our Commonwealth’s most vulnerable children,” Kentucky Democratic Party Chair Colmon Elridge said in a statement. “Contrary to what Republicans claim, this strips away the rights of parents to make choices in the best interests of their child. I find it horrific that the GOP majority is spending limited time and our resources creating a climate of fear for LGBTQ children.”

Family Foundation Executive Director David Walls, whose organization has played a central role in pushing for the bill, declared a major victory. His statement denied the legitimacy of transgender youth.

“Today’s vote to override Gov. Beshear’s veto of SB 150 is a win for children and their parents in Kentucky. SB 150 will protect the lives of Kentucky children by setting policy in alignment with the truth that every child is created as a male or female and deserves to be loved, treated with dignity, and accepted for who they really (are).”