Lawmakers file four anti-LGBTQ+ bills in 2024 Kentucky General Assembly

By the end of 2023, 510+ anti-LGBTQ+ bills were introduced legislatively across the United States and tracked by the American Civil Liberties Union. This was a record number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills filed in state legislatures in the United States. As of January 26, the ACLU has named 367 filed bills attacking LGBTQ+ rights so far in 2024. We are not through the first month of the year, and we are nearing 75% of the record-setting amount of anti-LGBTQ+ bills we saw filed in 2023. This shows a trajectory of what is to come not only nationally, but in Kentucky. The Fairness Campaign, Kentucky’s LGBTQ+ advocacy organization, anticipates a tough legislative session.

Of those 367bills, 4 are bills filed in Kentucky – which are all at the stage of being referred to committee. This is the first stage of a bill becoming a law. In order for a bill to become a law, it has to go through committees, votes, readings, and then to the other General Assembly chamber. At each step of this process, people have the right to engage on the bill, as is shown below. 

How it’s supposed to work. (“How Can They Do That? Transparency and Citizen Participation in Kentucky’s Legislative Process,” League of Woman Voters of Kentucky)

This article will break down what anti-LGBTQ+ bills are already filed, and what we anticipate is coming outside of what is already filed. 

Last legislative session in Kentucky, there were 9 anti-LGBTQ+ bills that were filed. Throughout the session, certain legislators worked to strategically pull bits and pieces from bills that got stalled and inserted them into still active bills, creating  SB 5 and SB 150. SB 150 is a giant “omnibus” piece of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation that was signed into law. 

This meticulously coordinated effort to push bills limiting personal liberties, privacy, and medical access was not received well by queer Kentuckians, community members, teachers, and students. Many wondered why our politicians spent so much time fussing over these bills and not better schools, community centers, roads, and so on. Yet, there are already 4 bills filed that show Kentucky politicians are not planning on switching up on filing controversial bills any time soon. Many continue to wonder why these bills are being filed despite Kentuckians not wanting to regulate the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. According to non-profit campaign finance watchdog organizations OpenSecrets and Accountable.US, there is a financial stake in supporting these controversial pieces of legislation.

The first of these bills we will be unpacking is following a national trend we are seeing in the 2024 anti-LGBTQ+ bills: attacking DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) programs. Kentucky legislators have filed HB 9, which Lexington Herald-Leader writers Austin Horn and Alex Acquisto have broken down the bill as moving to, 

“defund all Diversity, Equity and Inclusion offices and trainings, eliminate race-based scholarships and end administrative promotion or justification of so-called ‘discriminatory concepts’ like white privilege under a Republican-backed bill filed Friday. House Bill 9, introduced by Rep. Jennifer Decker, R-Waddy, would bar public post-secondary institutions from providing any ‘differential’ or ‘preferential’ treatment to a student or employee based on race, religion, sex, color or national origin. That includes through any office, programming or training on diversity, equity and inclusion — also known as DEI — which has become a frequent target of conservatives nationwide.”

Similar to last year, the nationwide coordination of these bills shows the amount of money and organization behind these pieces of legislation – not organic wants and needs from the constituents these politicians are elected to serve. This year, much of the national language trickling down into Kentucky is centered around DEI, as noted by Horn and Acquisto. In addition to HB 9, SB 93 aims to regulate DEI programs and social-emotional learning by amending KRS 161.164 to, 

“…prohibit public school districts and schools from expending any resources or funds to purchase membership in, or goods and services from, any organization that discriminates on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or religion; to prohibit public school districts and schools from expending any resources or funds on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging or political or social activism; prohibit public school districts from engaging in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging; provide a limited exception for compliance with state or federal law; amend KRS 158.4416 to strike all references to trauma-informed approach…”

Also filed was HB 304, which is a mix of “curriculum censorship”, “forced outing in schools”, and general codifying of language that can serve as a precedent for further regulatory legislation. This bill utilizes “parental rights” language, which has served as a dog whistle in education politics to signify “white race politics” since at least 2021. This “parental rights” phrasing is also a dog whistle to attack public schools, and this language was included in many of the anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced last year in Kentucky and the broader United States. This specific rhetoric shows a webbing of coordination between conservative politicians in Kentucky pulling from a national playbook. 

Lastly, HB 47 has been filed in Kentucky and designated by the ACLU as an anti-LGBTQ+ bill framed under “Weakening Civil Rights Laws” as Religious Exemptions. According to the ACLU, “Religious exemption bills undermine and weaken nondiscrimination laws by allowing employees, businesses, and even hospitals to turn away LGBRQ people or refuse them equal treatment.”

These 4 bills show us that Kentucky politicians are tapped into the same networks that gave us last year’s legislative session. Much of last year’s infamous anti-LGBTQ+ bill, SB 150, was read, cut and pasted, decided on, and pushed through in the dark. In a 2023 Courier-Journal article by Oliva Krauth, it’s illustrated how the bill passage was a “saga” where  SB 150 was “resurrect[ed]” in the “11th hour.” That kind of maneuvering could be expected this year in order to pass similar anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.

Many Kentuckians expressed that they wanted more transparency around bills that are so impactful and controversial. But, the same processes that led to a lack of transparency last year are still in existence. There was legislation passed in 2022 that eliminated the process of posting prefiled bills on the Legislative Research Commission’s website. Folks can only see prefiled bills if lawmakers publicly share their draft legislation at their own will – on social media, in committees, etc. This means we will have the same limited access to knowing what bills are filed that we had in 2023. After so many anti-LGBTQ+ bills being strategically pushed through last year, and seeing how 4 are already filed as a part of a national playbook, LGBTQ+ advocates worry about what is to come. But, we don’t know exactly what’s to come. This is because of our bill filing process in Kentucky.

In a Kentucky Lantern article by McKenna Horsley, Republican House Speaker David Osborne is quoted as saying in a statement “that the original prefiled bill process was ‘not only ineffective at increasing transparency, but also created a distraction from the work carried out by our interim joint committees.” This only further decreases transparency, which serves to disengage constituents from understanding the bills moving through their legislature. When paired with the context of the past and current anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced in Kentucky, this coordinated effort looks like a blatant attempt to quickly and quietly regulate the safety, identity, and existence of queerness in the state of Kentucky.

Chris Hartman (he/him), Executive Director of the Fairness Campaign, shared his statement on the current anti-LGBTQ+ bills in the state legislature and what he anticipates is to come,

“I worry about how many anti-LGBTQ+ bills may be introduced in the Kentucky General Assembly this year. It’s still early in the session, and I fear we may see another record number. It’s unclear yet what the legislature’s priorities may be, beyond passing some version of the “Suffer Kentucky Act” and attacking DEI, but we’ll be watching and mobilizing our supporters every step along the way.”

This story is part of a series from Queer Kentucky focused on following the 2024 Kentucky General Assembly from a queer lens. Follow Queer Kentucky on your favorite social media platform to stay up-to-date with our GA24 coverage.