On November 7, Democratic incumbent Andy Beshear defeated Republican challenger Daniel Cameron in the Kentucky gubernatorial race. With over 50% of the votes, Beshear won the election by a larger margin than he did in 2019. As America continues to become more and more ideologically polarized, many Americans, especially transgender Americans, considered this election especially high-stakes.
In the 2023 legislative session, record numbers of anti-trans legislation were introduced. The ACLU claims to track 506 pieces of such legislation and counting. This legislative push is not exclusive to any one region of the United States: 45 states have proposed anti-trans legislation this year. These proposed —and sometimes enacted— laws impact various areas of life for transgender people, ranging from accurate legal identification to education and healthcare. Many laws took aim at gender-affirming care for minors.
Nearly every major medical organization in the United States supports people under 18 having access to gender-affirming healthcare. In June, The Endocrine Society passed a resolution stating that “As political attacks on gender-affirming care escalate, it is the responsibility of the medical community to speak out in support of evidence-based care. Medical decisions should be made by patients, their relatives and health care providers, not politicians.” This resolution was sponsored by The American Academy of Pediatrics, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, The American Urological Association, The American Society for Reproductive Medicine, The American College of Physicians, The American Association of Clinical Endocrinology, GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ+ Equality and the AMA’s Medical Student Section.
Before puberty, transition care typically consists of changing one's name, getting a haircut that feels affirming or dressing in a way that feels more comfortable. Post-puberty, hormone blockers (which temporarily pause puberty) and gender-affirming hormones (which induce the desired puberty) are options. Surgery is also an option, but SRS, or sex reassignment surgery, is very rarely accessible for people under 18. Some people claim children as young as three are being operated on: this is blatantly false. National guidelines place the lower limit at 15, and this is only in extreme cases.
Despite being widely supported by the medical community, many states have passed laws banning minors from accessing transition-related care. Currently, a total of 20 states have banned transition care for people under 18. In 2023, Oklahoma made it a felony to provide transition care to anyone under the age of 18, forcing minors to wait until they become legal adults to transition medically. North Dakota, Alabama, Florida and Idaho have also made it a felony to provide gender-affirming care to a minor.
The American Principles Project (APP), a far-right group, has been part of this recent push for anti-trans policies. The most recent legislative push against transgender rights has been primarily focused on healthcare for minors. This, Terry Schilling, the APP president, says, is “where the consensus is.” However, as the New York Times reported in January, Schilling has “confirmed that his organization’s long-term goal was to eliminate transition care.” According to the Human Rights Campaign, “some states, such as Oklahoma, Texas, and South Carolina, have considered banning care for transgender people up to 26 years of age.”
In March, a bill landed on Beshear’s desk. If passed, it would ban discussions of gender and sexuality in school, restrict bathroom access for transgender people, allow teachers to refuse to use the correct pronouns for transgender students and ban transition care for minors. Beshear, Beshear vetoed the bill. In his veto message, he expressed concern that “Senate Bill 150 will endanger the children of Kentucky.” A study from Austin et al in 2022 reported that among transgender people in the United States, 82% have considered killing themselves and 40% have attempted, “with suicidality highest among transgender youth.”
His veto was overridden by the legislature: Kentucky has a Republican supermajority in both chambers. Protesters were outraged, chanting “There’s more of us not here,” and holding signs, with one saying “Our blood is on your hands.” Schilling, in response to the bill passing, said, “We are grateful to Kentucky legislators for standing firm and passing this strong law to protect their state’s children and families, despite Gov. Beshear’s disgraceful decision to veto it.”
This year, the APP zeroed in on the Kentucky Gubernatorial race. They ran one advertisement that claimed the government would remove transgender children from their homes if their parents questioned their identity. This ad featured a child at dinner telling their parents that they’re transgender, and when the parents criticize that statement, the FBI shows up in their home and the child is taken away. Louisville Public Media reported that the American Principles Project contributed 1.67 million dollars to Daniel Cameron’s campaign in the form of attack ads against Beshear.
At the end of this video, the APP shows a link to a website titled LyingAndy.com. This website claims that Beshear “vetoed legislation that would protect [women] from men in women's sports,” “vetoed legislation that would keep men out of women's locker rooms and restrooms” and “vetoed legislation to protect children from sex-change surgeries and hormone blocking drugs.” Many of the other attack ads on Beshear played on fears of men in women's sports, and featured Riley Gaines, a “vocal critic of transgender female athletes in women’s sports” who “began her advocacy work after tying for fifth place in an NCAA freestyle championship with University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia K. Thomas — the first openly transgender woman to win an NCAA swimming event.”
The 2023 midterms were a sign that many other ideologically-conservative policies are not election-winning topics. In Ohio, another narrowly Republican state, voters voted to approve a constitutional amendment protecting abortion access. This came after the overturning of Roe v Wade through the 2022 Dobbs v Jackson Supreme Court decision. All over the country, school board candidates affiliated with Moms For Liberty, an organization opposing the inclusion of LGBTQ subjects into school curriculum, also suffered “overwhelming defeat.”
Beshear’s win showed that in the United States, the recent move towards anti-trans policies is not coming from the citizens: 54% oppose such policies. Instead, much of recent legislative pushes for anti-transgender policies have come from conservative interest groups like the American Principles Project. November’s gubernatorial election is a sign that anti-trans rhetoric, like that expressed by the APP, is not well-supported by everyday Americans, even in traditionally red states like Kentucky.