Were minors getting gender reassignment surgeries in Kentucky before new law banned them?

Mark Payne
Mark Payne
Mark Payne is the government and politics reporter for LINK nky. Email him at [email protected].

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A letter written in March from University of Kentucky Healthcare — but not released until last week — says that a small number of minors received gender reassignment surgeries in Kentucky before a new law banned the procedures for those under 18.

But Emma Curtis, a trans person who spoke out against the new law, said the fact that the surgeries performed were “top surgeries,” and not “genital gender reassignment” surgeries, means they shouldn’t be considered gender reassignment surgeries at all.

“You would be hard-pressed to find a transgender person who thinks top surgery is quote-unquote gender reassignment surgery,” Curtis told LINK nky’s content partner, Lex18.

Top surgery, according to UK Healthcare, “creates breasts for male-to-female transgender patients or removes breasts for female-to-male transgender patients.”

The issue of gender reassignment surgeries for minors has been a major talking point in the gubernatorial race between Democratic incumbent Andy Beshear and Republican nominee Attorney General Daniel Cameron. 

Cameron and Republicans have argued that Beshear supports the surgeries, but Beshear released an ad last month saying that he does not, and the surgeries aren’t happening on minors in Kentucky. 

“These attacks on me by Daniel Cameron are not true,” Beshear says in the ad released last month. “I’ve never supported gender reassignment surgery for kids, and those surgeries don’t happen here in Kentucky.”

Cameron, however, said in a press conference that Beshear was deceiving Kentuckians. 

“Andy Beshear looked directly into a camera and lied about his record on gender reassignment surgeries for minors,” Cameron said, referring to Beshear’s veto of Senate Bill 150 — a bill that, among other things, banned gender-affirming care for minors in Kentucky. 

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The letter, released by Rep. James Tipton (R-Taylorsville), states that a small number of surgeries on minors were performed by Transform Health — the branch of UK Health that serves LGBTQ+ members that are transgender or gender non-conforming. 

The letter says that “Transform Health has, in recent years, performed a small number of non-genital gender reassignment surgeries on minors, such as mastectomies for older adolescents. Like any surgery at UK HealthCare, these are performed only after careful medical evaluation, discussion, and the consent of patients/guardians.” 

It further says that “Transform Health does not perform genital gender reassignment surgery on minors. Indeed, these types of surgeries on minors are not considered best practice in the United States and are performed in this country very rarely.” 

Republicans celebrated the letter as proof that gender reassignment surgeries on minors were happening in Kentucky before the passage of SB150 and that they were right when it came to banning the procedures.

Rebecca Blankenship, the executive director of BanConversion Therapy Kentucky and Kentucky’s first openly elected transgender elected official, said there’d been a lot of “hubbub” around the letter and questioned why the letter was just now released. 

“When HB470 was first introduced, we had informal conversations with a number of providers that led us to believe absolutely no gender-affirming surgeries were happening in Kentucky,” Blankenship said of the bill that eventually became part of SB150. 

But, Blankenship said that after further looking into the issue, a gender-affirming mastectomy did occur on an older teenager in May 2021. 

“The reality is this: When legislators passed SB 150, these surgeries were not happening in Kentucky,” Blankenship said. “The most revelatory facet of this whole story is that the majority caucus’ allergy to transparency extends not only to the public but even their own members.”

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