The Governor’s Race: What candidates are saying about gender, identity issues

Published 9:54 am Monday, August 28, 2023

A year before the 2024 presidential election, Kentucky seems to be testing out a campaign based on so-called “culture war” issues like sexuality and gender expression.

Concerns over identity and transgender minors have become a focal point of this year’s gubernatorial election between incumbent Democrat Gov. Andy Beshear and Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron.

This year, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 150 into law, overriding Gov. Beshear’s veto.

The law’s various provisions include bans on:

  • gender-affirming surgery for minors;
  • puberty blockers and hormone therapy for transgender minors;
  • instruction on human sexuality or sexually transmitted diseases before grade six;
  • any instruction exploring gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation; and
  • Kentucky Department of Education or school district-level policies requiring school personnel and students to use pronouns for transgender students that do not conform to their biological sex.
  • transgender students using bathrooms or lockers for members of the opposite biological sex.

Cameron fully supports the bill.

After it was passed, he called it a “commonsense law that protects Kentucky children from unnecessary medical experimentation with powerful drugs and hormone treatments.”

At a recent press conference, he said he has empathy for the children and families facing these difficult decisions.

“But I do not think that the solution for these kids is moving to the most extreme option of life-altering drugs and surgery during their formative years,” he said. “These are minors. These are our children. And that is why this issue is so important.”

He did not directly state whether he supported gender-affirming care for Kentucky adults, saying that “adults can make different decisions,” but that SB150 was about “protecting kids and making sure that we don’t rob them of youth and innocence.”

He has also used Beshear’s veto of the bill to argue that the governor supports “life-altering surgeries for minors.”

Beshear has responded, in both television ads and interviews, that he has always opposed gender reassignment surgeries and that to his knowledge, they never happened in Kentucky.

His SB150 veto message states several reasons for vetoing the bill. Beshear wrote that it constituted “government interference in personal health care issues” and violated parents’ rights to make medical decisions for their children.

He added that the bill would increase suicide rates among the LGTBQ+ population, citing a 2022 National Survey that found that 45% of LGTBQ youth seriously considered suicide and 1 in 5 attempted suicide in the past year.

“Improving access to gender-affirming care is an important means of improving health outcomes fo the transgender population,” he wrote.

Beshear did not specifically mention gender-affirming surgeries in his veto message. He was not able to line-item veto specific parts of the bill.

Later, both Beshear and the Fairness Campaign said they advocated for a bill that solely banned gender-affirming surgeries for minors, without other provisions.

Earlier this month, a letter was released that showed a University of Kentucky clinic had in fact performed a small number of “gender-affirming surgeries” for people as young as 16 in recent years, but stopped once SB150 was passed.

These surgeries did not include genital reassignment surgeries, but instead surgeries that either removed or added breast tissue for transgender patients.

Beshear said he was never informed about it. An open records request to UK Healthcare confirmed that the office was unaware of any correspondence between UK Healthcare and the governor’s office concerning this issue during Beshear’s first term.

In his capacity as attorney general, Cameron has fought to enforce SB150.

The KDE used a misplaced “or” in the law to argue that school districts could choose between following either the provision banning instruction on human sexuality and STDs to grades five and below or the provision banning instruction exploring gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation.

Cameron issued an opinion through his office saying that schools need to comply with both provisions.

He said that despite the grammatical error, the legislature’s intent was clear, and that the KDE’s interpretation was “absurd.”

Cameron added that the bill did not violate Title IX because the question of whether sex-based discrimination applies to members of the transgender community has not been decided. Currently, several federal circuit courts are split on the issue.

What do Kentuckians think?

According to a Mason-Dixon poll asked for by the Fairness Campaign, 71% of Kentuckians oppose laws allowing “that state to overrule parents’ decisions to obtain certain health care for their transgender teenagers, such as certain medications that can regulate the onset of puberty.”

The poll found higher support for such a law among Republicans, men, and residents of western and eastern Kentucky.

SB150 is not the only bill related to transgender minors Beshear has vetoed.

In 2022, he vetoed the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, which banned transgender athletes from girls’ and women’s sports from grade six on.

His veto was overridden by the legislature.

Before the law passed, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association had a policy on transgender athletes with several requirements to compete: a legally reassigned gender and sex reassignment before puberty or hormonal therapy for enough time to “minimize gender-related advantages” after puberty.

In his veto message, Beshear said he vetoed the bill because the General Assembly “inserted itself” into an issue the KHSAA had already handled “with nuance.”

“The General Assembly has not pointed out any example of the KHSAA policy being ineffective in allowing transgender children to participate in sports while maintaining a fair competitive advantage,” he wrote.

“Transgender children deserve public officials’ efforts to demonstrate that they are valued members of our communities through compassion, kindness and empathy, even if not understanding.”