- Ruhika Ponda
Kentucky Senate Passes Controversial Bill, Allowing School Personnel to Misgender Students
On February 16, 2023, the Kentucky State Senate passed Senate Bill 150, which, among other provisions, prohibits Kentucky school districts from requiring other students, teachers, or faculty to address students according to their chosen pronouns. The bill also requires an explicit standard for human sexuality education to be introduced, established, and shared with students’ parents. This bill was originally introduced by state Senator Max Wise (R) to the Education Committee on February 8 and was quickly approved by the committee the following day. Although the bill has received harsh criticism from several other state leaders, notably Senator Karen Berg (D), it passed by a vote of 29-6. The House received the bill on February 17 and is expected to vote imminently.
Senator Wise and other proponents of the bill believe that “School administrators and faculty are being unnecessarily pressured to conform to an agenda that has no place within our public schools.” If this bill is signed into law, Kentucky teachers and staff members may refer to transgender students according to their biological sex. Furthermore, the bill also prohibits school districts from requiring that student information be kept confidential from parents, including chosen pronouns or any other information regarding a student’s sexuality. Critics of the bill point out that this is not only harmful to the mental health and well-being of transgender students in Kentucky but also eliminates the possibility of a safe space for students in school.
Senator Wise, the bill’s lead sponsor, is a gubernatorial candidate - and current Senator Kelly Craft’s (R) running mate - and has outspokenly sought GOP support alongside several other candidates. As a result, this bill received intense feedback from both sides, bringing Senator Wise’s name and agenda into conversation. Principally, Senator Berg and others believe this bill may have been part of a political agenda to advance his candidacy and introduce more radical, right-leaning legislation just before GOP voters choose their nominees.
Senator Berg has been a strong opponent of the bill since its inception. Her son, Henry Berg-Brousseau, was a transgender rights advocate who died by suicide at the end of 2022. Senator Berg said that her son had trouble finding acceptance from others and that this bill invalidates the identities of transgender children. She said, “Your vote yes on this bill means one of two things: Either you believe that trans children do not exist, or you believe that trans children do not deserve to exist.”
The Senate and the House both have the Republican supermajority needed to pass this bill, meaning it will likely be signed into law in the near future. The implications of such a law being enacted could be enormous. This bill is among the first of its kind that explicitly states that school personnel cannot be prohibited from misgendering students, meaning the bill will eliminate safe spaces for transgender youth, potentially affecting their mental and physical health.
Kentucky SB 150 is among the first of its kind to specifically target the role of schools in regard to trans youth identity. However, there have been numerous pieces of legislation passed in states, such as Utah, South Dakota, Mississippi, and Tennessee, that restrict trans youth from accessing both physical and mental healthcare. Additionally, the Indiana House of Representatives recently voted to advance a similar bill protecting the custody rights of parents of trans youth who do not respect their child’s identity. This Kentucky SB 150 is just the most recent of new state legislation that focuses on the restriction of transgender rights and also paves the way for additional legislation to be introduced that further discounts trans youth identity. Regardless of whether this was a politically motivated, strategic move for Senator Wise, it received a tremendous amount of backlash from Democratic Kentucky senators and LGBTQ+ advocates across the nation.