[PBS NewsHour]

The state-level battles brewing in America over LGBTQ+ rights

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WASHINGTON (NewsHour) — More than a dozen GOP-led states have passed bans with limits ranging from healthcare to sports participation, while Democratic-controlled states have sought to shore up protections for LGBTQ+ rights.

NewsHour’s Geoff Bennett discussed the efforts with NewsHour Communities correspondents Gabrielle Hays in Missouri, Adam Kemp in Oklahoma and Frances Kai-Hwa Wang in Michigan.

Read the Full Transcript

Amna Nawaz:

More than a dozen GOP-led states have passed legislation banning medical care for children who identify as transgender, with limits on a range of issues, from health care to sports participation, that as Democratic-controlled states have sought to shore up protections.

Geoff Bennett recently spoke with our community’s reporters, Gabrielle Hays in Missouri, Adam Kemp in Oklahoma, and Frances Wang in Michigan, about it all.

Geoff Bennett:

Gabby, we will start with you in Missouri, where the state’s attorney general has attempted to ban transition-related medical care. Where does that stand now?

Gabrielle Hays:

Attorney General Andrew Bailey withdrew his emergency ruling that he tried to put into place back in March.

And, essentially, what he was trying to do was to use an emergency rule in order to effectively ban gender-affirming medical care for not only minors, but also adults. That move saw pushback almost immediately from the ACLU, Lambda Legal, and other organizations.

And, also, those organizations looked for a temporary restraining order from a judge, which was granted. However, now with the attorney general withdrawing his emergency ruling, their focus is no longer on that, but on what moves the state legislature has made as well, which also take a look at gender-affirming care as well.

Geoff Bennett:

So, there are two bills that the legislature recently passed, as I understand it. Tell us about them and the prospects of those pieces of legislation.

Gabrielle Hays:

Well, I first want to note that the Missouri governor, Mike Parson, made it clear this year that, if those bills did not pass, that he would call in a special session.

So, those bills did pass at the very end of the legislative session. One of them restricts trans athletes’ participation in sports, not only in the lower grades, but I believe also college. The second bill also takes the aim at gender-affirming care, but specifically for minors.

Now, advocates tell me that, though the bills that the legislature have passed may not be as extreme as what the attorney general was trying to do, they are still discriminatory. They still go after trans rights and the identity of trans people in our state, their existence.

And so advocates are looking for the governor to possibly veto those. But they did pass the legislature.

Geoff Bennett:

So, Adam, in Oklahoma, where you are, the state legislature is following up on a 2022 ban of trans students in youth sports with a ban on transition-related medical care. Tell us about that.

Adam Kemp:


Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt earlier this month signed this bill into law that effectively bans gender-affirming care here in the state for transgender youth. Not only does it do that. It also goes after providers here in the state, making it a felony conviction if they are caught providing that care, and they are referred to their licensing board if they are caught giving that care.

Here’s Governor Kevin Stitt earlier this month after signing that bill.

Gov. Kevin Stitt (R-OK):

Minors should not be permanently harmed or mutilated or have gender transition surgeries done. I think Oklahomans agree with me on that. And, again, these are minors. Minors can’t get tattoos, buy alcohol. They can’t buy tobacco. We need to protect our minors.

And this is nothing against an adult. If you want to get an elective surgery of some kind, that’s something that you’re going to do as an adult. But we do have an obligation to protect our children. So, I have confidence that the courts agree with us that our legislature has the ability to pass that law.

Adam Kemp:

And, Geoff, it’s important to note that all major medical associations support gender-affirming care, saying that it not only helps those with gender dysphoria, but bans like this really can further harm those communities.

The ACLU, as well as several families here in Oklahoma have already filed lawsuits saying that this violates their rights under the Equal Protection Act of the 14th Amendment. Right now, the — Oklahoma’s attorney general says they will not prosecute under this law until those lawsuits are settled.

An LGBTQ flag
A LGBTQ flag with a big hole on it at the demonstration on Jan.11, 2019. [Wangyuxuan Xu | WOUB]

Geoff Bennett:

So, Adam, what’s been the immediate impact of this new law?

Adam Kemp:

Yes, it’s an interesting time here right now in Oklahoma, because what advocates and experts are seeing right now is an exodus of providers.

They were already trying to transition to possibly other states or other fields of medicine, especially on the heels of Oklahoma’s total abortion ban last year. And so, right now, it’s leaving those seeking that care to turn to the Internet to crowdfund for both expenses for both travel, as well as these procedures.

Geoff Bennett:

And, Frances, you’re in Michigan, a state that has a Democratic-controlled legislature. It also has a Democratic governor. How has Michigan sought to codify protections, not just for trans individuals, but for the greater LGBTQ community?

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang:

In March, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a bipartisan amendment expanding the state’s 1976 Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include discrimination protections for sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

Now, advocates have been working to get LGBTQ+ civil rights protection since the 1970s. And Michigan is now the 23rd state to codify these protections against discrimination. Governor Whitmer has said that guaranteeing equal legal protections to LGBTQ+ Michiganders is the right thing to do and will help businesses attract and retain talent.

Geoff Bennett:

Our communities correspondents Frances Wang in Michigan, Adam Kemp in Oklahoma, and Gabrielle Hays in Missouri, our thanks to the three of you.

Gabrielle Hays:

Thank you.