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Mother knows best, unless you ask Utah lawmakers

Cat Palmer on the 2023 legislative session


Utahns rally in support of transgender individuals and their right to access gender-affirming healthcare at the State Capitol on Jan. 24, 2023. - CAT PALMER
  • Cat Palmer
  • Utahns rally in support of transgender individuals and their right to access gender-affirming healthcare at the State Capitol on Jan. 24, 2023.

You know that old adage about broken clocks being right twice a day? Well, in April 2018, state Sen. Mike Kennedy tweeted, "It's time we returned health care to a patient-doctor relationship, and put individuals back in the driver's seat."

More recently, the Alpine Republican's website claims: "People know how to care for themselves and their families. Government should not usurp the power of parents."

Unfortunately, that's where the accuracy of Kennedy's broken clock ends. If you've been under a rock for the first awful days of the Utah legislative session, know that Kennedy is the sponsor of SB16, which uses child surgery as a red herring to take all gender-affirming care out of the hands of parents and away from transgender children.

Kennedy's bill earned final approval on Jan. 27, and Gov. Spencer Cox signed the bill into law the next day (a Saturday). When it came up in committee, the sponsor's expert witness held a Ph.D. in philosophy and worked for a think tank—not a medical institution—but made sure to present himself as a "doctor" and use medical language in stoking false fears.

Despite the narrative Republicans have created, Utah families and their doctors are not performing gender-affirming surgeries on minors. Nicole Mihalopoulos, M.D., informed the committee of this, but lawmakers only heard what they wanted to hear. Under the new law, children will be unable to seek any hormone blockers or other non-invasive, gender-affirming medical care until they are at least 18 years old.

This law affects my kid and hits close to home. Despite beautiful public testimony from many during the committee hearing, one fact remains: The Utah State Capitol is where voices of dissent go to die.

On a cold Tuesday, we gathered at the Capitol to rally—hoping to have our voices heard and to let the same kids who the Legislature spent all week disparaging know that they are loved. The truth is that these abhorrent bills are being pushed through by uncaring politicians who are picking and choosing what they want to believe.

The rally was inspiring and heartfelt. But as we expected, the bill passed easily through committee, then the Senate and then the House. The governor quickly signed it. Kennedy has acknowledged there will be lawsuits over his bill. He and his colleagues don't care. Sen. Tim Jimenez, R-Tooele, backed up this sentiment when he said, "It's our job to push the court and see what they will do."

So many individual comments by these folks are disturbing. But one thing they all have in common is when they say, with a straight face, that they really do like all children. Yes, even the children they are trying to take bodily autonomy away from.

Sure, I can believe that lawmakers want to like all children, and they want to be helpful. But at the end of the day, they really only love the children who look like them and the children who do not complicate their narrow view of the world.

They have this false sense of reality that they are helping, but they also know about the suicide rates among trans kids, and they don't care. They continue to bully these kids through lawmaking without batting an eye.

Do you know how hard it is to sit and listen to this as the parent of a trans daughter? I looked at the youth in the room where these politicians were using their existence for political gain and wished I could protect them all.

Greg Walker, another parent of a transgender kid, agreed with me. "This process has been frustrating," he told me. "When you have a transgender child, there are established standards of care. They make this political, but as parents, it isn't. The authors of the bill keep bringing in studies from other countries, like Sweden, instead of following what every major American Medical Association defines as the best way to move forward in giving our child the best care."

Walker added: "If you start politicizing people's health, where does it end?"

During one hearing, I sat next to Theo, a non-binary, recent graduate of the University of Utah, who had never been to a legislative hearing before. "I remember the frustration of being a teenager who felt constantly dismissed by adults, and I felt that again today during the hearing," Theo told me. "These kids will see this, and they won't forget how their concerns, their feelings, were ignored by adults who won't see eye-to-eye with them. I certainly won't."

Theo is right, and this is not our first rodeo. They want to take away our rights and our children's rights and treat us all like second-class citizens. We are not going away. We will not forget. And we will see them in court.

Oh, and to Sen. Kennedy and Rep. Katy Hall, R-Ogden, (SB16's House sponsor): My kid thinks it's weird that you are so obsessed with her genitals. So do I.

P.S.—Equality Utah's Sue Robbins maintains a useful transgender information resource at Your call to action? Call, email and text your legislators. Tell them why you believe in real parental rights. Call Gov. Spencer Cox's office, and tell him its wrong to support these harmful bills. This angry mom thanks you.

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