In its 2023 session, the Kansas Legislature developed a set of priorities in the name of helping children, apparently without regard for what the children of Kansas need.
Lawmakers myopically and dangerously focused on transgender children, with the likely potential for truly unimaginable consequences. When considering these priorities, we should ask ourselves why this was the focus when there were real opportunities for these legislators to do good for the most precious and vulnerable population of Kansas: our children.
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Both the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry have made it clear bills targeting transgender children will cause extreme mental and physical harm. According to an article published in the National Library of Medicine, 82% of transgender people have considered suicide, with 40% attempting to end their own life. The American Academy of Pediatrics states more than half of trans youth assigned male at birth have attempted suicide and almost 30% of trans youth assigned female at birth have attempted to take their own life.
The Kansas legislature was hyper-focused on isolating and targeting transgender youth in Kansas even though we know the stakes are this high.
The explanation some legislators are giving for bills banning gender-affirming care stems from the assumptive idea that people will change their minds. This is, at best, speculation and is certainly a flimsy justification for creating punitive measures targeting children and their medical providers.
This claim also stems from outright ignorance over the process of transgender medical treatment. Intense psychological examinations take place before starting treatment is even considered. Did our legislators claim to know more about this process than our medical care providers trained specifically to handle these medical issues?
The World Professional Association for Transgender Health says evidence of later regret is scarce, with less than 1% of people who have transitioned expressing regret for their decision. Perhaps our legislators should examine actual medical procedures and the large body of data-driven evidence stating gender transition is not something people come to later regret.
Instead of using politically charged rhetoric to promote issues that could result in children dying, our legislators should have seized the opportunity actually help the children of this state. Our elected officials had the chance to focus on issues such as food insecurity, repairing a broken foster care system, ensuring access to quality medical care and preventing gun-related deaths of children.
Instead of using politically charged rhetoric to promote issues that could result in children dying, our legislators should have seized the opportunity actually help the children of this state.
One should question the motivation for blatantly ignoring these glaringly obvious problems.
Feeding America cites over 100,000 children in the state of Kansas face hunger regularly. A lack of consistent, healthy food means children cannot learn properly, will face health issues and are suffering daily. Nearly 7,000 children are in foster care, which is an over-burdened, under-funded system struggling to find permanent placement for children. The CPTDS Foundation reports at least 30% of children in foster care will experience post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. The Annie E. Casey Foundation reported in 2022 that rural hospital closures and soaring health care costs mean many Kansas children are not receiving anything even close to adequate medical care.
Finally, new research from the Pew Research Center shows the number of child gun-related deaths rose 46% in just two years. In America today, a child is most likely to die from a gunshot than anything else. The gun-related laws that were proposed this session were either ineffective attempts to implement NRA programs in schools or waive fees for concealed carry licenses. Both bills were requested for introduction by representatives receiving money from the NRA, as cited in their ethics reports.
Our children deserve meaningful solutions to the real problems in their lives. Instead, many Kansas legislators chose to focus on the creation of mythical boogeymen, perhaps with the intent of driving political polarization to win elections.
Our citizen legislators, most of whom lack any kind of medical training, are making medical decisions for the people of Kansas that are not based on science or fact. This is most likely happening because these issues make or break candidates in election cycles.
The Kansas Legislature had the potential to positively transform the lives of children in this state and they did not. Instead, they developed a tactic to target groups they believe have no political power but can ignite a base during election season. In doing so, they are committing cruel violations of human rights to further their political agendas and careers.
And they are only getting started.
Amber Dickinson holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Kansas and is a co-host of Inspire on KTWU. Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.