Energy for Missouri legislation restricting gender-affirming care for transgender youth was high as lawmakers returned to the state Capitol Monday.
A rowdy crowd packed the Capitol Rotunda for the "Missouri Kids FIRST Rally," organized by various groups to show support for legislation banning gender care for minors. A few hours earlier, Missouri's attorney general announced a new regulation restricting gender transitions.
"I don't care if we don't do anything else here, we're going to protect kids in the state of Missouri," Sen. Bill Eigel, a Weldon Spring Republican and co-sponsor of the legislation, said at the rally.
The rally was organized by right-wing group Gays Against Groomers, Jefferson City political blogger and conservative activist Jodi Grace and TreVoices, a group of transgender educators opposed to transitions for minors.
Several Republican elected officials joined to voice their support for the effort.
PROMO, Missouri's leading LGBTQ+ policy and advocacy organization, condemned the rally as "anti-trans" and discouraged supporters from attending due to "personal safety concerns for the community."
About a dozen protesters attended anyway. They remained largely silent at the back of the Rotunda. Dressed in black, they wore face masks and some had bullet proof vests.
"Those pushing Monday's agenda seek to create a sense of fear, isolation and loss among transgender Missourians and the friends and family who love trans and gender-expansive siblings," PROMO Executive Director Katy Erker-Lynch said in a statement. "However, the LGBTQ+ community is a symbol of bravery and courage simply because each person refuses to bend to hate by living our truth and standing up for our loved ones every day. Instead of fear and hate, our community is filled with hope and love and we'll continue to defend all LGBTQ+ Missourians."
Rally speakers routinely talked about minors' lack of ability to consent to gender transition medical care and a lack of consensus about what long-term impacts the care may have on developing bodies.
Several of the speakers were transgender and received transitional care. Some said they regretted the procedure while others said they simply didn't support offering it to people younger than 18 years old.
"If I felt this was anti-trans, I don't think I would have invited them to be here with us today," Grace, the organizer, said.
"This isn't anti-anything today, this is protecting children," she added.
Shira Berkowitz, PROMO's director of public policy and advocacy, said there are 34 bills aimed at attacking Missouri's LGBTQ+ community this session.
"Legislation such as Senate Bill 49 and other trans healthcare bans are extremely dangerous because these deny evidence-based, best practice standards of care supported by every major medical society in the country and intentionally put transgender and gender-expansive youth's health and wellness at risk," Berkowitz said in a statement.
The Missouri Senate was debating SB 49, which bans gender care such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy for minors, before it adjourned for spring break a day early. Democrats had filibustered the bill for hours as negotiations continued behind the scenes.
After those negotiations stalled, Majority Floor Leader Cindy O'Laughlin, R-Shelbina, adjourned early.
Sen. Mike Moon, an Ash Grove Republican and the bill's sponsor, and seven other Republicans wrote in a letter that they expected to return to the bill immediately upon resuming session Monday.
"I'm ready to stay here every night this week to break the filibuster, pass the SAFE Act and put this into law in the state of Missouri," Sen. Denny Hoskins, a Warrensburg Republican who signed onto the letter and sponsors similar legislation, said at the rally.
Catherine Dreher, vice chair of the Missouri Libertarian Party and a former candidate for Senate District 10, spoke about her experiences with her transgender child at the rally and specifically called out Sen. Travis Fitzwater, a Holts Summit Republican and her former opponent, for a lack of action this session.
She said elected officials need to remember who they serve.
And if they're not for Moon's bill, there's no need for them, several of the speakers said.
Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft was the first to speak at the rally. He said he doesn't care about political ramifications in the Republican-controlled Legislature, as long as the legislation is passed.
"It's time that we raise our expectations and every legislator in this building needs to know that we won't just expect more of you in August of 2024," Ashcroft, a Republican, said. "If you're not willing to stand and do the right thing, we won't have any more of you."
Hours before the General Assembly was scheduled to reconvene, Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey announced he was issuing an emergency regulation declaring gender transition interventions experimental, and therefore covered by existing state laws regarding unfair, deceptive and unconscionable business practices.
The Attorney General's Office said in a news release the regulation was necessary "due to the skyrocketing number of gender transition interventions, despite rising concerns in the medical community that these procedures are experimental and lack clinical evidence of safety or success."
The regulation requires doctors to inform patients that puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and that the agency warns of brain swelling and blindness resulting from the treatments, among other findings from various groups that suggest the treatments might be considered dangerous.
It prevents gender transition care if the patient hasn't received 18 months of psychological or psychiatric assessment through at least 15 separate, hourly sessions, or has unresolved or untreated comorbidities. Before starting any treatment, providers must ensure patients have been tested for autism, have on file informed, written consent, have a procedure for tracking adverse effects for at least 15 years and ensure annually the patient "is not experiencing social contagion with respect to the patient's gender identity."
Once in effect, Bailey's regulation will last 30 legislative days or 180 regular days, whichever is longer.
"I am dedicated to using every legal tool at my disposal to stand in the gap and protect children from being subject to inhumane science experiments," Bailey, a Republican, said in a statement.
SB 49: Establishes the "Missouri Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act"
Sponsor: Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove