Lifesaving or harmful? Trans care debate barrels toward 2024.

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When Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey issued an emergency order in April to restrict gender-transition treatments in his state, he announced he was acting to protect vulnerable patients – particularly children – from “experimental” medicine, accusing the clinics providing such care of “harming children by ignoring the science.”

To many parents of transgender children in Missouri, however, the real threat they face is not from doctors but politicians. 

“The first thing you learn when you have a trans kid in a red state is that you have to protect them from the government,” says Daniel Bogard, a rabbi in St. Louis who has a transgender son in third grade and runs a summer camp for LGBTQ+ youth from across the Midwest. 

Why We Wrote This

What’s driving the tsunami of transgender-related bills in state legislatures? A combination of political strategy on the right and broader social unease over the rise in self-identification by youth.

The attorney general’s order has been halted, for now, by the courts. But this week, Republicans in Missouri’s legislature moved to ban all gender-transition treatments for minors, except for those already receiving such treatments. It also passed a bill barring transgender youth from participating on certain sports teams. GOP Gov. Mike Parson has promised to sign both.  

Missouri is second only to Texas in the number of LGBTQ+-related bills introduced this year, part of a wave of states imposing new restrictions on transgender individuals in particular. In GOP-controlled legislatures from Florida to Arkansas to Montana, the ACLU has tracked 474 bills it characterizes as targeting LGBTQ+ rights in 2023 alone. Red states are banning trans athletes from playing on certain teams and placing restrictions on which bathrooms they can use. And at least 16 now ban or restrict medical treatments for transitioning. 

Riley Robinson/Staff

Rabbi Daniel Bogard is shown in the library of his synagogue, Central Reform Congregation, in St. Louis, May 7, 2023. The parent of a transgender son, he calls what’s happening in Missouri “awful and painful,” and says he knows many families who are leaving or preparing to leave the state.

Two decades after Republicans found success at the ballot box by mobilizing against same-sex marriage – only to watch public opinion rapidly move to embrace it in the years that followed – transgender rights are emerging as perhaps the most polarizing culture-war issue of the 2024 campaign. As trans people have moved into the mainstream of popular culture, at a pace that would have seemed remarkable not long ago, conservatives are stoking a social and political backlash, particularly among older voters unfamiliar with a once largely invisible minority. Former President Donald Trump and other GOP candidates are accusing liberals of promoting “radical” ideas about gender identity, and arguing such topics should be off-limits in schools. And many are raising concerns about transition-related medicine, especially for minors, saying it’s unproven and dangerous.

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