Kentucky Legislature Affirms Parents’ Rights, Bans Gender Transition Procedures for Minors
The Kentucky legislature passed a bill (SB 150) on Thursday advancing parental rights in education and prohibiting gender transition procedures on minors, largely along party lines. The bill first passed the Senate 29-6 on February 16; exactly one month later, the House passed it 75-22, and the Senate concurred 30-7 in House amendments the same day. The bill now heads to the desk of Governor Andy Beshear, the first Democratic governor to be presented with a bill to protect minors from gender transition procedures.
The final version of SB 150 contains four sections: 1) recognizing a parent’s right to know about their student’s gender transition; 2) regulating age-inappropriate sex education curriculum; 3) prohibiting student locker rooms and bathrooms from members of the opposite sex; and 4) prohibiting gender transition procedures on minors with penalties.
First, SB 150 requires school districts to notify parents “upon a student’s enrollment and at the beginning of each school year” about “the health services and mental health services related to human sexuality, contraception, or family planning available at the student’s school and of the parents’ right to withhold consent or decline any of those specific services.” The school must “notify a student’s parents” of any change in the services it provides or if “School personnel make a referral: 1. For the student to receive a school’s health services or mental health services; or 2. To an external health care provider, for which parental consent shall be obtained prior to the referral being made.” This provision would prevent schools from hiding a student’s gender transition from his or her parents.
The bill explicitly recognizes “the rights of parents to make decisions regarding the upbringing and control of the student” and requires schools to adopt “procedures encouraging students to discuss mental or physical health or life issues with their parents.” It also forbids the Kentucky Board of Education or Department of Education from creating policies that would require local districts to “keep any student information confidential from a student’s parents.” The section also acknowledges free speech rights, stating, “A local school district shall not require school personnel or students to use pronouns for students that do not conform to that particular student’s biological sex.”
In the fall of 2022, the school district in Montgomery County, Maryland prohibited school staff from disclosing a child’s gender identity or sexual orientation to his or her parents. The number of trans-identifying students in the school district had increased 991% over the previous two school years.
In early 2022, a Florida school district helped a 12-year-old girl secretly transition into a male identity. She then attempted suicide on two consecutive days. The district did not inform her parents either of her gender transition or of the first suicide attempt until after she attempted to commit suicide a second time.
Second, SB 150 requires any sex-education curriculum to include “a policy to respect parental rights.” This policy must ensure that K-5th grade children receive no sex education, and that no child, “regardless of grade level,” receives “any instruction or presentation that has a goal or purpose of students studying or exploring gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation.” It also requires school districts to notify parents and obtain their written consent for sex education curriculum, allowing parents to review all curriculum, instructional materials, lesson plans, assessments or tests, surveys or questionnaires, assignments, and instructional activities.
This policy responds to a recent pattern of education experts dismissing parental involvement in curriculum and decision-making. Last month, an Arizona teacher testified against a bill giving parents the right to review sex ed curriculum, “I have a master’s degree. … What do the parents have?” On Monday, Georgia Representative Lydia Glaize (D) opposed a school choice bill, arguing that parents “are not qualified to make those decisions” because “a lot of those parents did not finish high school.”
Third, SB 150 directs local school districts to adopt sex-separated privacy policies that “shall, at a minimum, not allow students to use restrooms, locker rooms, or shower rooms that are reserved for students of a different biological sex.” It recognizes that “parents have a reasonable expectation that schools will not allow minor children to be viewed in various states of undress by members of the opposite biological sex, nor allow minor children to view members of the opposite sex in various states of undress,” and that schools have a “duty to respect and protect the privacy rights of students.”
Fourth, SB 150 forbids health care providers from performing gender transition procedures on minors “for the purpose of attempting to alter the appearance of, or to validate a minor’s perception of, the minor’s sex, if that appearance or perception is inconsistent with the minor’s sex.” This prohibition includes prescribing puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones or performing any gender transition surgery. It authorizes the appropriate licensing agency to revoke the license of a health care provider who violated this section, and it creates a cause of “civil action to recover damages,” which the minor can bring until he or she turns 30, or until three years from the time the person discovered the injury.
Pro-transgender activists have threatened legal action against SB 150. A day prior to the bill’s passage, ACLU Kentucky warned, “If this unconstitutional measure becomes law, our legal team stands ready to see the commonwealth in court.”
However, the bill still faces a few final hurdles in the legislative process. When asked Friday whether Governor Beshear would veto the bill, a spokeswoman directed reporters to a March 2 press conference, at which Beshear stated, “Whether it’s the American Medical Association or Trevor Project, all of the authority on this suggests that these types of bills will cause an increase in suicide for Kentucky’s teens. I can’t support anything that could cost the life of one of our Kentucky teens.”
The American Medical Association endorses gender transition procedures for minors despite alarms raised by a growing number of medical professionals. The Trevor Project is a transgender advocacy organization. Jennifer Bauwens, director of FRC’s Center for Family Studies, told The Washington Stand last week, “We don’t even have the scientific literature to establish a link between these gender-affirming procedures and self-harm. … We do have evidence that this is causing harm to minors, both their physiology and their psychology.”
If Beshear intends to veto SB 150, he has 10 days to do so (excluding Sundays). However, the legislature could override his veto with a simple majority in both chambers. On the penultimate day of the 2022 legislative session, the Kentucky legislature voted to override more than 40 vetoes issued by Governor Beshear, including his veto of a girls’ sports bill and a bill that banned abortion after 15 weeks or through the mail.
So far in the 2023 state legislative session, four states have enacted bills of varying strengths protecting minors from gender transition procedures — Mississippi, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Utah. In Florida, licensing boards have prohibited the procedures this year without legislative action. Alabama (2022) and Arkansas (2021) enacted similar laws in previous legislative sessions, which are now undergoing legal challenges.
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.