FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky lawmakers are considering a bill the sponsor said is about parental rights and free speech, while opponents of the bill said it could be dangerous for transgender kids.
Transgender advocates are calling Senate Bill 150 the "Erase Trans Kids Bill." That name comes from a specific part of the bill. It doesn't say teachers and students can't use a student's preferred pronouns, but it does allow them to use the pronouns assigned to a student at birth instead.
This portion of the bill is what many at a Senate Education Committee spoke about during the public comment portion of the bill hearing Thursday. It's one reason Democratic Sen. Karen Berg of Louisville was in the room, according to our sister station WLEX in Lexington.
She watched as her colleagues advanced the bill that transgender advocates believe is "anti-LGBTQ." This happened less than two months after she lost her transgender son, Henry, to suicide.
"I needed to be in the room for the vote," she told reporters. "I needed to know that they knew that I was standing there."
Others were also there in opposition to the bill, including Mason Chernosky who is a transgender man.
"I was one of those children whose mental health would've been harmed by this bill," he said.
When sharing his personal experience with the committee, he said when he was in school, he hadn't come out to his parents.
"They were very religious and they did not support the LGBTQ lifestyle as they put it," Chernosky said.
At school, he was out and things were different.
"It was so nice to have one place where I could just be myself," he said.
Under the bill, he said his mental health would've taken a hit.
Chris Hartman, the executive director of the Fairness Campaign, said the bill could be dangerous for trans kids, especially when considering the numbers.
"One in five transgender youth have not just seriously considered but have attempted suicide in the past year," Hartman said.
Another transgender man who also works with transgender kids spoke in opposition to the bill too.
"If my trans kids that I'm treating — who have already transitioned — go into the school and their teacher starts using the wrong name and pronouns for them, they will be suicidal," said Miles Joyner, who works with LGBTQ kids. "I have looked into their eyes. have seen their faces. I'm begging for their lives."
He also told lawmakers that using a person's preferred pronouns is easy and respectful.
"They deserve to be referred to by their name and their pronouns. It's not hurting you. It's not hurting you to call me Miles," he said. "Why would we hurt our children?"
The bill also bans education leaders from recommending how to approach pronouns. The sponsor of the bill, Republican Sen. Max Wise of Campbellsville said the issue is about the First Amendment.
"Protecting the freedom of speech rights of staff and students by not forcing them to use nonconforming pronouns requested by other students," he said. "The purpose of this bill is to ensure parental communication, inspection and authorization."
This is where another part of the bill comes in. It requires schools to notify parents about their child requesting mental or physical health services. There's an exception if parents have a history of or are suspected of abuse.
Chernosky said even without this bill, when he was in school, he felt like he couldn't ask for these services.
"I was terrified that someone at my school was going to tell my parents, especially the teachers," he said. "My LGBTQ friends who got those services, who got to talk to people, who got support, they're mental health got better, mine did not."
In Wise's opinion, parents should be involved in these things.
"These are all topics and discussions that parents need to be aware of — always in the upbringing of their children," he said.
The bill would also require schools to give advanced notice to parents about lessons on human sexuality. Parents would be able to see the curriculum and opt out if they want to.
After the vote, Berg told WLEX she doesn't believe the bill is about kids, parents or schools at all. She believes it's a way for Wise, who is Kelly Craft's running mate in the governor's race, is trying to score political points.
"This is a political social issue. What they are doing right now — they are intentionally placing themselves to the right of another potential gubernatorial candidate in the hope of winning that vote," said Berg.
"[The Craft-Wise ticket] needs to show that they are further right than the current Republican front runner on the ticket. That's what this whole thing — this whole shit show — is about," added Berg. "And they're putting our children smack dab in the middle of it, on purpose, without a care in the world."
The bill was passed in committee 11-1 and will be considered by the full senate next.
There are already a few amendments filed.