Foes of Kentucky transgender bill push back with radio ads

Mar 27, 2023, 10:35 AM | Updated: 11:36 am

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A well-known Kentucky Republican on Monday blasted the GOP’s push for transgender legislation, calling it “a bad look for the party of Abraham Lincoln” in a radio ad coming days before lawmakers could vote to override the Democratic governor’s veto of the bill.

Former longtime GOP state lawmaker Bob Heleringer evoked Lincoln’s memory and words in lashing out against the Republican measure. A companion radio ad features Trey Grayson, a former Republican secretary of state in Kentucky. The Fairness Campaign, an LGBTQ+ advocacy organization in Kentucky, paid for the commercials, which are airing statewide.

It’s part of an uphill effort by the bill’s opponents to try to fend off an override of Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto of the measure aimed at regulating the lives of transgender youths. The bill would ban access to gender-affirming health care and restrict the bathrooms they can use. It also would allow teachers to refuse to refer to transgender students by the pronouns they use.

The bill easily passed with veto-proof margins in the legislature — where Republicans have supermajorities in both chambers. Lawmakers are set to reconvene Wednesday for the final two days of this year’s session, when they could vote to push aside Beshear’s veto. Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer said Monday that the ads would not slow the bill’s momentum among legislators.

The supporters say they are trying to protect children from undertaking gender-affirming treatments they might regret as adults. Research shows such regret is rare.

The Family Foundation, a faith-based organization in Kentucky, is urging lawmakers to override the veto. It said Beshear put “radical sexual ideology above protecting Kentucky children from harm.”

Heleringer pushed back against his party’s efforts throughout the session. In one of the new ads, he asks if the GOP worked for years to gain legislative majorities in Kentucky “just to wage an all-out war against defenseless transgender children? Wow, what a bad look for the party of Abraham Lincoln.”

In the ad featuring Grayson, the ex-statewide official says he can’t believe lawmakers are “working in the final days to take rights away from Kentucky parents” by pushing the transgender bill.

“They want to overrule parents and doctors when it comes to care for transgender kids,” he said in urging Kentuckians to contact their lawmakers to speak out against the bill.

It’s similar to the arguments made by the governor, who says the bill “tears away the freedom of parents to make critical and difficult medical decisions for their children.”

The legislation in Kentucky is part of a national movement, with Republican state lawmakers approving extensive measures that restrict the rights of LGBTQ+ people this year, from bills targeting transgender athletes and drag performers to measures limiting gender-affirming care.

The Kentucky measure would ban gender-affirming care for transgender minors. It would outlaw gender reassignment surgery for anyone under 18, as well as the use of puberty blockers and hormones, and inpatient and outpatient gender-affirming hospital services.

Doctors would have to set a timeline to “detransition” children already taking puberty blockers or undergoing hormone therapy. They could continue offering care as they taper a youngster’s treatments, if removing them from the treatment immediately could harm the child.

Transgender medical treatments have long been available in the United States and are endorsed by major medical associations.

The bill would not allow schools to discuss sexual orientation or gender identity with students of any age. It would require school districts to devise bathroom policies that, “at a minimum,” would not allow transgender children to use the bathroom aligned with their gender identities. It also would require schools to notify parents when lessons related to human sexuality are going to be taught.

Chris Hartman, executive director of the Fairness Campaign, said featuring well-known Republicans in the ads was “intentional for us to show the support on both sides of the aisle, which we know exists” in opposing the bill. Both Heleringer and Grayson have lobbied on behalf of issues important to the Fairness Campaign, he said.

Thayer took issue with the strategy, saying it “crosses a line.”

“They have a First Amendment right to say whatever they want, but it’s extremely rare for registered lobbyists to appear in an advertising campaign,” Thayer said.

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Foes of Kentucky transgender bill push back with radio ads