As state legislators around the country gather this month to create and pass policy, 2023 brings fresh attention to ongoing efforts impacting the LGBTQ+ community. The first part of the 2023 session of the Kentucky General Assembly convened on January 3 to swear in members, elect leadership, adopt procedural rules, and file bills.
It is unclear if bills potentially impacting LGBTQ+ Kentuckians have any widespread support or hope of passing in this session or if leadership will make them a priority.
This session has several bills that could impact LGBTQ+ Kentuckians. Chris Hartman, Executive Director for the Fairness campaign — a lobbying and advocacy organization that concentrates on preventing discrimination by sexual orientation and gender identity in the state and dismantling systemic racism — highlighted three anti-LGBTQ+ bills that were filed before the start of the session: HB30, HB58, and HB120.
HB30- ‘AN ACT relating to public school facilities and declaring an emergency’ is one piece of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation filed this year with harsh implications. A bathroom bill, this proposal would ban trans students from restrooms matching their gender identities and open schools to civil liability for not enforcing this ban.
“It’s a resurrected bathroom bill previously defeated in 2015,” said Hartman. This a reference to when Kentuckians saw a bathroom bill proposal pass the state Senate but failed to pass the house during the 2015 session. There is little difference between the current bill and the bill which ultimately failed in 2015. The proposed civil penalties are still steep “schools can be sued into oblivion if they allow and respect a trans kids usage of facilities that match their gender identity,” he later added.
This session also includes other discriminatory bills: HB58- ‘AN ACT relating to protecting the exercise of medical ethics within the medical profession’- would protect healthcare providers who deny care based on their conscience from liability. This proposes a blanket ‘license to discriminate.’ HB120- ‘AN ACT relating to children’s health’- is an anti-trans bill that would criminalize gender-affirming care for trans youth. Proposed legislation excluding trans youth seeking gender-affirming care from medical coverage and care is a position all significant medical associations openly advocate against.
While the bills above, which were pre-filed ahead of this session, are worrisome for LGBTQ+ Kentuckians, the likelihood of their success is yet to be determined and far from certain to become policy.
It is difficult to judge the priorities of the republican legislators this early in the session. The Kentucky General Assembly, Regular Session calendars differ on odd and even years. Even years are long, 60 days, while odd years are shorter 30-day sessions. Part 1 of the 2023 session convened from January 3 to January 6, and Part II convense on February 7.
On the bright side, the strong advocacy of Kentuckians could also result in anti-discrimination wins in this session. “The state needs to pass a statewide fairness law,” said Hartman while outlining the progress made in passing local fairness ordinances at the city level throughout Kentucky.
Progress could be made with HIV decriminalization, and conversion therapy bans this session as well.
Hartman said, “We’ll work with advocates pursuing a ban on the deadly practice of conversion therapy” as he references the Fairness Campaign’s and other advocate’s efforts in banning the practice that has harmed so many Kentuckians, “I hope that prominent legislation like this gets the attention it deserves” he added.
Addressing HIV criminalization is another anti-discrimination legislative priority for Hartman. “There are several outdated laws on our books still that create criminal charges against people living with HIV in different aspects of life,” he said, outlining possible progress to be made this session around donating organs and tissues.
2023 follows several years of increasingly intense anti-LGBTQ legislation across the country, and LGBTQ Kentuckians are no strangers to this discrimination. As the legislative session gets underway, bad bills and good priorities are on the horizon. There are upcoming opportunities to join others in addressing the hate faced by LGBTQ Kentuckians, one of which is the statewide fairness rally on February 15 held by the Fairness Campaign at the Kentucky State Capitol.