A student hits a volleyball among teammates in a file image.
Activists are preparing for more bills targeting trans youth in Missouri in the upcoming legislative session. (File photo)

State legislative sessions in 2022 saw a record number of bills directed at the small number of youth who identify as transgender. Missouri was no exception, introducing a number of anti-trans bills across the 2022 legislative session.

The Human Rights Campaign has counted more than 137 bills filed nationwide that it identifies as anti-trans. According to data compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union, at least six such anti-trans bills were introduced in the Missouri General Assembly this year.  Though none of them became law, activists are gearing up to fight against them in 2023, and are renewing calls for an intersectional approach to equality in the state that takes into account the multiple forms of discrimination that can exist when it comes to race, class and gender identity. 

One bill, sponsored by Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, would have banned women of transgender experience from playing on sports teams designated for women. A similar bill was introduced on the House side by Rep. Chuck Basye, R-Rocheport, despite the Missouri State High School Activities Association having guidelines for transgender high school athletes. 
The legislature considered another bill, sponsored by Rep. Suzie Pollock, R-Lebanon, that would bar those younger than 25 from receiving gender-affirming procedures and would subject medical providers who performed such procedures to any patient to civil action or license revocation. Another House bill would have prohibited changing the sex marker on a birth certificate, making the legal aspects of transitioning even more difficult.

As those fighting for LGBTQ rights in Missouri push back against these anti-trans bills, they note the uphill nature of their work.  Missouri has struggled for decades to pass the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act, which would prohibit discrimination based on gender orientation or identity. Currently, gay or transgender Missourians can be denied a job or housing because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Progress shouldn’t be a matter of privilege, activists say 

The environment presents a litany of roadblocks for activists, who described fighting for LGBTQ+ rights in Missouri as a “grueling” process. 

Legislation that would adversely affect  LGBTQ+ people in Missouri is nothing new. Lisa Wright, the director of PFLAG KC, a local chapter of a nationwide group started by parents of LGBTQ+ children, said the state has supported criminalization of anyone who is gender non-conforming or not heterosexual. 

“They’re using fear, fear of the unknown, fear of people you don’t know. They’ve been attacking the LGBTQ community for decades. So this isn’t anything new,” she said. “It’s just that now they have more steam behind them. And you know, they’re going full speed ahead because that’s how they can get people to vote the way they want.“ 

None of the bills that concerned transgender youth made it to final passage over the 2022 session. But allies anticipate seeing the legislation again in the 2023 session — perhaps in even more extreme versions.

Though activists warn of the danger in these bills, some also categorize them as low-hanging fruit. They say trans people in Missouri have needs like safe housing, mental health services, health care and more, that aren’t being sufficiently addressed. 

Merrique Jenson, who founded Transformations, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering trans women of color through mentorship and leadership opportunities, said she’s hoping Missourians will be fighting against the future bills in light of increased LGBTQ visibility.

“Cisgender white men, often Republican men, men who are conservative, men who are extremists… can limit the ways that other communities have power, by [doing things like] pushing for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe vs. Wade,” she said.  “We’re anticipating what’s going to happen for LGBTQ communities, specifically trans communities, specifically trans women of color communities. Those are things that we’re bracing for that are coming down the pipeline.” 

Jenson added: “The folks who are the most marginalized on these bills, and who are going to receive the brunt of violence, will be young trans people, trans girls of color, who are kicked out of their homes, who are living on the streets, who have to deal with systemic racism, violence, misogyny and who have to deal with sexual violence.”

Jenson pointed to the bill that sought to ban gender-affirming care for trans Missourians. The bill originally was written to prohibit minors from receiving reversible puberty blockers or hormone treatments to transition and would have criminalized parents for helping provide their children with that care. 

A study released last month by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law found that youth ages 13 to 17 comprise a larger share of the transgender-identifying population at 18% than previously estimated, up from 10%. 

“Our findings regarding gender, age, and race/ethnicity are in keeping with existing research, which has found that nonbinary adults comprise nearly a third of transgender adults, transgender people are on average younger than the general population, and transgender people are more likely to report being Latinx and less likely to report being White,” the authors wrote. 

Missouri is no exception to these trends, according to the Williams Institute data estimates. 

The data estimates that .2% of Missouri’s adult population identifies as transgender, or about 9,500 people. According to testimony from Dr. Sarah Garwood, an adolescent medicine specialist at the St. Louis Children’s Hospital, the lifetime suicide attempt rate in the transgender community is 40%, with the majority of those attempts taking place before a person turns 19. Garwood said adhering to the bill introduced in Missouri would mean ignoring medical best practices put in place by the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

“Bills like this basically ask us to practice medicine in violation of professional standards of care,” Garwood said in February. “That’s an incredibly uncomfortable and difficult place to be as a medical provider. Do we risk losing our license, or do we do what is medically accurate and evidence-based and ethical?”

Lack of care can exacerbate issues facing trans Missourians in rural areas

Kendall Martinez-Wright is a Missouri native and statewide LGBTQ strategist. She said transgender Missourians, especially those in rural areas, are acutely affected by lack of employment opportunities, housing, health care and other essential services. Discriminatory legislation makes their situation worse, she said.

“These pieces of legislation will really be detrimental to not only sustain Missouri, it is going to really be a detriment to individuals who do not have that access to health care, don’t have access to be able to move, pack up things and relocate to an urban area within the state,” Martinez-Wright said. 

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MEG CUNNINGHAM is The Beacon’s Missouri Statehouse reporter. Previously, Meg worked as a national politics reporter for ABC News in Washington, D.C., where she covered campaigns and elections. Meg is...