Along with responsibilities of managing their families, parents of transgender children in Missouri find they are frequently called upon these days to clear their calendars and hit the road to Jefferson City to oppose legislation aimed at their kids and gender-affirming care.
After several years spent debating bills related to the small percentage of Missourians who are transgender, leaders of the Missouri General Assembly have said that restricting some activities and medical treatments for this group is a priority for the 2023 legislative session.
Nearly 40 bills have been introduced that would ban things like gender-affirming care for minors, participation by transgender athletes in girls’ and women’s sports, and drag performances. The bills, all sponsored by GOP lawmakers, are part of a nationwide push in Republican-led legislatures to limit rights and freedoms of people who identify as transgender or nonbinary.
Republicans in Missouri have wide majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, making it difficult for Democrats to block the bills and discouraging for trans people or the parents of trans children who are trying to slow the momentum of the legislation.
Lawmakers on different committees across the General Assembly have held multiple hearings so far on some of the many bills that have been filed. In Missouri, only 24 hours notice is required for a legislative hearing, making it difficult for those who want to testify against the legislation to take off work, arrange child care and get to Jefferson City in time to make their voices heard.
“It’s been clear as mud the entire time,” Keeley Kromat, the mother of a trans child, told The Beacon. “Trying to rely on every bit of civics I can remember. Just constant Googling.”
Kromat said she’d followed the legislation for years, but before now she never had access to the information she needed early enough to make it to the Capitol to testify. Her 17-year-old daughter is transgender and was a patient at the Washington University Transgender Center in St. Louis. The legislature is advancing proposals to bar minors like her daughter from receiving gender-affirming care such as puberty blockers or other hormones.
“Once we started the transition, we thought we were set,” Kromat said of the years of medical care needed for a child to transition. “It wasn’t until I saw (Democrat) Rep. Peter Merideth’s post about the initial hearing that I was like, ‘Oh gosh, this is happening.’”
Parents of trans children band together while legislature takes aim at gender-affirming care
On March 23, the Missouri Senate passed a bill, SB 49, to ban minors from receiving gender-affirming care for the next four years. Missourians who are already participating in treatments such as hormones or puberty blockers will be allowed to continue their care. But after Aug. 28, Missourians 17 or younger would be barred from receiving gender-affirming care. The provision sunsets in four years, though lawmakers could extend the restriction after that. The bills are now under consideration in the House.
While the Senate was debating the bill, state Attorney General Andrew Bailey issued an emergency regulation requiring health care providers to inform patients about the “risks” of gender-affirming care, despite widespread medical consensus that the treatments, when taken in accordance with approved protocols, are safe and necessary.
The Senate also passed a bill, SB 39, to prevent trans youths from playing on a sports team that aligns with their gender identity.
Senate Democrats tried to stave off the bills through filibusters, but were ultimately unable to block the legislation. Parents of trans children told The Beacon that despite logistical difficulties, they feel called to oppose the legislation in the Capitol.
“I have to tell you, as a parent, it feels as though we are set up to fail,” said Lisa Spahr, who lives in a suburb outside St. Louis.
“You have to have a certain stomach to be able to do this work,” Spahr said. “You’re taking a day off work, you’re rearranging the schedule, you have to choose whether or not to subject the children to it. You have a little bit of preparation you have to do for all the myriad of bills. You have to decide which ones are most important for me to put those resources forward to come and fight. It’s expensive. It’s time-consuming.”
She added: “I’ve met people who have said, ‘I can’t go there. I can’t listen to the ugly things that they say in the hearings.’ And I respect that. This is not for the lighthearted. You really have to be ready to hear some awful things and still have your business face on and try to find reason where there often feels like there’s none.”
Lear Rose, who identifies as a trans, nonbinary person, started receiving gender-affirming care when they turned 15. They’re now 18 and would be unaffected by the Senate bill banning care for minors.
“I started gender-affirming care at 15. And I’ve gotten on puberty blockers before and that really helped a lot with dysphoria,” said Rose, a student at St. Louis University. “That was a major turning point in my life because for the first time I was able to feel comfortable with my body and comfortable in my skin.”
But the actions underway in the Missouri General Assembly and in other states to limit or block access to gender-affirming care led them to want to resist the legislation, even though the struggle can be exhausting.
“It’s hard, especially in times like these,” they said. “A lot of times, people like me are called on to be a representational voice. And that can be difficult, especially when it’s constant… When this recent legislation started happening, I felt that I really had to do something. I couldn’t necessarily stay silent. I’m a teen. If I was just a year younger, the kind of medicines that I was on would have been taken away from me. It would have been really hard and I can’t exactly say for sure if, you know, if I hadn’t gotten the care that I had gotten, that I would still be here.”
Parents point to their children’s mental health and the adverse impact some of the proposed legislation could have.
“I’ve made a really, really easy choice to love and believe and support my child,” said Alison Maclean, a mother. “It doesn’t mean I don’t have questions. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have hesitations. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have concerns about certain aspects of what it means to be trans in this country, and particularly in this state. But it was such an easy choice to believe him and support him and love him.”
Maclean and other parents want lawmakers to know that trying to help children through gender dysphoria or transitioning is not easy, and decisions are not made quickly. It takes years of medical care, financial resources and commitment to support their children.
“So from the ages of about 4 to 10, every two years, we went in for one appointment just to talk,” Debi Jackson, the parent of a trans, nonbinary child said of appointments with endocrinologists.
“A lot of people say, ‘Oh my gosh, these gender clinics are seeing families with kids as young as 2 and 3.’ Yeah, they are, and what happens in those appointments is they talk to parents and say, ‘It’s going to be OK, take a deep breath. We’ve got you, we’re gonna be here for you. We’re gonna help you get through it when the time comes.’ That’s literally all that happens. It is support for the family.”
It’s a laborious and expensive journey that not all families can afford or access, which is why Jackson feels the need to use her voice to speak about her experience and shut down misinformation.
“We are a middle-class family who have the means, so many other people don’t,” she said. “So the idea that millions of kids are on blockers is crazy, because we can’t afford it.”
A community born from the legislature’s focus on trans children
The silver lining, parents and members of the trans community told The Beacon, is the relationships they’ve formed with families in similar situations and the visibility that has been created by so many of those fighting against the legislation.
“Every trip to the Capitol … the first thing you do is hug people,” Jackson said. “We’re watching our kids grow up in this horrific environment. And just knowing that we’re all here and we’re going through the same things together is incredibly helpful. To be able to look around and see the faces of people and say, ‘We’ve done our kids proud even if this stuff passes.’”
Those who have resources to travel to the Capitol and speak against the legislation said they feel responsible to speak out for those who don’t have the same access to lawmakers as they do.
Jordan Braxton, a 62-year-old Black trans woman and drag queen from St. Louis, said she always wants to highlight the resilience of the trans community.
“I’m a fighter. I’ve always been a fighter. I’ve never taken no for an answer,” she said. “And if you tell me I can’t do something, I want to prove you wrong and actually do it. But there’s some people that are not like that, and I understand and I want to support those people. Because we want to show people that we are a resilient and resourceful community — the trans community, the drag community. We want to show we will not be pushed back in the closet.”
Christine Hyman, a parent of a trans child who works in advocacy for trans youth, told The Beacon that meeting with other families and with supportive lawmakers like Kansas City Sen. Greg Razer, a Democrat who is the only openly gay member of the Senate, has created a close-knit community in Missouri.
“But we’ve never done it for just our family, because these other families that we’ve met over the years, their kids become our kids. We all are like one giant family,” Hyman said, adding that fighting for young kids who may not be able to access gender-affirming care for the next four years is imperative.
“These kids aren’t going to be OK. And that’s why we keep showing up,” she said. “That’s why I will go sit through a filibuster and support the people who are standing up for us. These people are the only people standing between my kid having health care and not or other kids having health care or not. And there’s not very many of them. They do whatever they can for us, so it’s kind of like giving back in a way.”