Kentucky’s new anti-trans law makes the school year more complicated for LGBTQ+ students and their parents
Ray Loux is a 17-year-old student in the Fayette County Public School system. He started his senior year of high school last month, but this year is different. Loux will complete his final year of high school as part of an alternative learning program at Bluegrass Community and Technical College in Lexington, in part due to Senate Bill 150.
Under the new law, which has been criticized as one of the worst anti-trans bills in the country, this school year is different for public school students across the state who identify as queer or transgender.
Loux, who is transgender, said he decided that a change from Henry Clay High School in Lexington was needed due to new restrictions placed on schools as a result of the bill.
“One of the things I struggled with initially was using the restroom in school,” Loux said. “That was one of the things that gave me a lot of anxiety following SB 150 was not being able to use the restroom in school, because essentially it doesn’t give you another option.”
Senate Bill 150 was passed by the Republican-led legislature in March. The bill prohibits doctors from providing certain types of gender-affirming medical care, including treatments that delay puberty and hormone therapy. The new law also imposes rules on public school systems that critics and doctors have denounced as negatively impacting LGBTQ+ students. Some of those measures include restricting which bathrooms those students can use, allowing teachers to misgender students, and prohibiting students from exploring gender identity or sexual orientation in classroom assignments.
The bill was introduced as a way to strengthen parental rights, according to bill sponsor and Republican state Senator Max Wise of Campbellsville, whose district covers six southern Kentucky counties. But opponents say it does the opposite and gives the state more control over what medical access parents and children have.
Loux agrees. He said he and his mother have fewer medical options after SB 150 was passed.
“They talk so much about parental rights when they were passing this bill and then she has considerably less parental rights than before,” Loux said. “My medical decisions should be between me, her and my doctors. Now it's between us and the state.”
Jason Glass, the former education commissioner in Kentucky, resigned from his position, saying he’d rather step aside than implement policies he felt targeted vulnerable groups of students.
“I do not wish to be a part of implementing the dangerous and unconstitutional anti-LGBTQI law that the legislature passed this last session, so it is time for me to move on,” Glass said.
WKU Public Radio contacted a number of school systems in our region including Warren County and Bowling Green Independent School District, Hardin County Public Schools, Elizabethtown Independent Schools, and Owensboro and Daviess County public schools to learn if they are complying with the new state guidelines and if there have been any issues during the new school year as a result of the bill.
All districts reported that they’ve adopted the guidelines within SB 150 that put them in compliance with the new state law. Several schools noted the biggest change to the classroom curriculum was a provision in the SB 150 to move teaching or lessons on sexual education to students in sixth grade instead of fifth grade . A notification of any lessons or units on sexuality must be made to parents along with an option for parents to opt-out.
Restrooms and classroom assignments
Restrooms inside the high school became hard to navigate for Loux, as he felt he couldn’t use either of the gender restrooms due to provisions from the new law.
“I would not be welcome inside the women's restroom and I wouldn't legally be allowed to use the men's,” Loux said. “And there's no single-stall restroom really in my school, except staff bathrooms.”
Under provisions in SB 150, school systems are required to offer “the best available accommodations” for restrooms, or changing rooms, but some schools don’t have unisex restrooms or single-stall restrooms aside from staff bathrooms which aren't available to students.
Discussions and assignments inside classrooms also became problematic for Loux. A section of SB 150 bans any instruction with the purpose of students studying or exploring gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation in an English assignment where he spoke about his personal experiences coming out as trans.
Loux recalled rigidness from teachers when completing assignments and felt it would have become more complicated in classrooms post-SB 150.
“Does me talking about my personal experiences suddenly count as violating the clause that says you’re not allowed to have any instruction or presentation on gender identity? It’s a big difference to go from being able to be open about your experiences to, ‘oh you’re specifically targeted to not be open about your experiences.’”
"It’s not that trans kids aren’t out there, it's that they’re not out."
Nina Wells, a clinical therapist based in Bowling Green, said classrooms can be a positive environment for self-expression for students. In particular, they can be a refuge for young people who might be questioning their gender identity or sexual orientation.
“This bill impacting the way that school personnel can support trans youth is really devastating, because it takes away one other safe place when so many trans youths don’t have that at home,” Wells said.
For youth in rural parts of the state who might be gender questioning, safe spaces and access to resources can be a limited commodity, according to Wells, but that doesn’t mean that young queer and trans students aren’t in need.
“Typically the more rural the area, the less access to support that queer kids have,” Wells said. "That’s not always the case but it can hinge toward that pattern. It’s not that trans kids aren’t out there, it's that they’re not out.”
Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a strong supporter of SB 150, has used anti-trans rhetoric during his campaign for Kentucky governor and criticized incumbent Gov. Andy Beshear for vetoing SB 150 during the state’s general assembly. That veto was overridden by an overwhelming margin by the Republican-dominated legislature.
As talking points around the issue continue to be a flash point in state and national politics, Loux hopes the public can see how harmful it can be for the people at the center of it.
“All these people in politics and on the news are talking about it when in reality we’re just the same … we're just trying to live,” Loux said.