Kentucky Politics

Kentucky’s Republican-led legislature recently passed a ban on transgender girls and women in sports, and LGBTQ rights advocates are sounding the alarm over its potential consequences. 

The state is one of about a dozen, including West Virginia and Tennessee, targeting transgender youth. The measure lawmakers advanced last week aims to stop trans girls in middle, high school and college from participating in sports on gender-aligning teams.

At a national roundtable discussion this week, Chris Hartman, executive director of the Kentucky Fairness Campaign, said the bill threatens to deny young trans people formative experiences.

“We know that all kids want to play sports for the same reason: to participate in school life, to have fun with their friends, to be mentored by coach and to learn how to win and lose with grace,” Hartman said. 

That discussion was in advance of the annual Transgender Day of Visibility, on March 31, which celebrates transgender and non-binary people. President Joe Biden issued a proclamation Wednesday recognizing the Day of Visibility, in which he said “political attacks” on transgender youth damage their metal health and well-being.

“Efforts to criminalize supportive medical care for transgender kids, to ban transgender children from playing sports, and to outlaw discussing LGBTQI+ people in schools undermine their humanity and corrode our Nation’s values,” Biden said in the proclamation.

Kentucky lawmakers who voted in favor of the ban said their goal is to ensure fairness in athletic competitions and protect girls’ sports. However, Hartman said that isn’t an issue in Kentucky. In fact, he said, it’s so rare that Republican lawmakers relied on representatives from national, conservative organizations to testify on behalf of the legislation.

“They couldn’t find any Kentuckians to testify in support of this discriminatory bill. Because there has been no problem in our state. There have never been any complaints brought before the Kentucky High School Athletic Association,” Hartman said. “They already have a policy in place that’s been there for more than a decade that is so restrictive that trans girls today cannot play high school sports in Kentucky.”

The KHSAA  does allow trans students to compete in sports on teams that match their gender, with the stipulation that they must first undergo surgery and hormone therapy.

Hartman said the measures passed here and in other states do nothing but spread hateful ideology. He added that it will do nothing but inflict further harm.

“It currently only affects one middle-schooler that we know of. A seventh grade girl who started her school’s field hockey team and recruited all of the other players…who lawmakers have now said cannot play with her friends her eighth grade year on the team that she began,” Hartman said. 

The girl he’s talking about is Fischer Wells, a student at Westport Middle School who testified several times against the bill. 

Hartman said, beyond the repercussions the discriminatory bill will have on trans youth and their families, it’ll also serve as a deterrent to living in the state. 

“I sat and listened to our Kentucky General Assembly debate on a tax bill a few weeks ago speculating about whether or not a 1% deduction in income tax would start bringing people to our state,” Hartman said. “Lawmakers need only ask their gay nephews why they left the state, ask their lesbian granddaughters why they’re leaving the state, ask their coworkers’ trans kids why their whole family left the state. they’re not making Kentucky more attractive by passing these types of laws. They’re putting us last on the list.”

The legislation is pending Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s approval. If he signs it into law, the bill would go into effect this summer. If he vetoes it, the Republican-led legislature has the power to override that decision.

Yasmine Jumaa is WFPL’s race and equity reporter.