Missouri GOP lawmakers seek permanent ban on gender-affirming care amid opposition

Andrew Rodriguez Damsgaard thinks Missouri lawmakers could learn a thing or two from his parents, who have supported him in his journey as a transgender teenager.

He realized he wasn’t a girl at age 10. Five years later, he brought up the idea to his parents and began making doctor appointments before starting gender-affirming care at 16.

“Every day I become more comfortable in my own skin,” Rodriguez Damsgaard, a 17 year old from the St. Louis area, told Missouri lawmakers on Wednesday.

“I want that freedom for other kids too. I want other young trans boys to love their voice, to shave their face, to have access to medical care that blesses them with a new motivation for life. Is that so terrible?”

The Missouri House Emerging Issues Committee held a marathon hearing on Wednesday over legislation aimed at the transgender community, including a pair of bills that would create a permanent ban on gender-affirming care for minors and prevent doctors and health care providers from lawsuits for refusing to provide gender-affirming care to patients. Other bills included proposals barring trans people from using restrooms that match their gender identity.

The bills are part of an onslaught of legislation filed this year that would regulate the community, a sign that conservatives targeting LGBTQ issues will look to build upon last session when lawmakers passed a ban on gender-affirming care for minors and barred transgender athletes from playing in sports that match their gender identity.

The main bill the Republican-controlled committee considered would strengthen the ban on gender-affirming care, removing the 2027 expiration date and a grandfather clause that allows minors to continue hormone therapy or puberty blockers if they were already prescribed them.

“I have heard no good reasons given for why we should make these drugs legal again in four years for kids to get sex changes,” said Rep. Brad Hudson, a Cape Fair Republican sponsoring the bill. Hudson also filed the bill that would block lawsuits against doctors and health care providers for refusing to provide gender-affirming care.

“There should have never been a sunset on it to begin with,” Hudson said.

Missouri state Rep. Brad Hudson, a Cape Fair Republican, speaks to a House committee about his bill that would make a ban on gender-affirming care permanent.
Missouri state Rep. Brad Hudson, a Cape Fair Republican, speaks to a House committee about his bill that would make a ban on gender-affirming care permanent.

Both the sunset clause and the expiration date were concessions to Democrats, who spent hours filibustering the bill last year. The legislation sets up a possible major fight between conservatives and LGBTQ advocates, who view the legislation as an attack on the trans community. Republican leaders in both the Missouri House and Senate have expressed reservations about taking up the ban on gender-affirming care again.

Rep. Doug Mann, a Columbia Democrat, said the legislation was part of a trend that built upon anti-gay rhetoric over the last few decades.

“When it became no longer acceptable to be anti-gay in public, people moved to being anti-trans,” Mann said. “When you start to attack an already vulnerable group of people, you do not stop with that already vulnerable group of people.”

One of the people who testified in favor of Hudson’s legislation was Jamie Reed, a former employee at a St. Louis transgender center whose claims that the center harmed children fueled part of the backlash among Missouri Republicans.

“It is neither liberal nor progressive to medically transition a child,” Reed said.

More restrictions sought

The committee was also scheduled to consider a slew of bills intended to restrict transgender people from using restrooms that match their gender identity, just months after neighboring Kansas barred transgender people from single-sex spaces inconsistent with their sex assigned at birth.

Two bills, filed by Republican Rep. Chris Lonsdale from Liberty and Rep. Ben Baker from Neosho, would require public schools to only allow students to use multiple-use restrooms that match their biological sex. The bills would allow for accommodations for trans students, such as use of faculty locker rooms, with written permission from a parent.

Another bill from Rep. Mark Matthiesen, an O’Fallon Republican, would extend the restroom requirement to businesses, preventing employers from requiring employees to use restrooms and locker rooms with members of the opposite sex.

Two other bills from state Rep. Adam Schnelting, a St. Charles Republican, would establish laws that make gender synonymous with sex, attempting to disregard the differences between the social and cultural characteristics of gender and sex.

One of Schnelting’s bills would take those definitions a step further and allow the state attorney general, currently Republican Andrew Bailey, to bring civil suits against public and charter schools that don’t designate restrooms based on biological sex.

Missouri lawmakers have filed 28 anti-LGBTQ bills this year, according to a database from the American Civil Liberties Union that tracks legislation nationwide. The wave comes after the state had the most anti-LGBTQ bills in the nation during several points last year.

Much of the debate in Missouri has centered on gender reassignment surgery, which is relatively rare for minors. Republican Gov. Mike Parson last year signed the bans on gender-affirming care and trans women in sports behind closed doors during Pride Month in June.

The bans were part of a nationwide push to regulate the lives of transgender people and stoked fear in Missouri’s trans community — placing Kansas City residents at the epicenter of the fight over transgender rights and prompting some Missouri residents to flee the state.

While the gender-affirming care ban allowed minors to continue treatments if they were already prescribed medication, some providers, such as University of Missouri Health Care, stopped providing the treatment altogether due to fear of legal consequences. The University of Missouri faces a lawsuit filed late last year from two trans boys over the decision to stop providing gender-affirming care for minors.

When Rodriguez Damsgaard first came out as trans, his father was apprehensive about how the rest of his life would play out, knowing the obstacles he would face.

But his father understood the importance of unconditional love and support and learned to love him not as his daughter but as his son, he said. Two weeks ago, he said, his father taught him how to shave.

“It meant everything to me,” he said. “He’s a man of very few words but his actions are always how he says I love you.”