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St. Louis County forms LGBTQ task force as state lawmakers weigh anti-trans bills

Sam Page is shown at a press conference, wearing a suit and yellow tie. An American flag is in the background.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said he wants to protect transgender children as state lawmakers this session consider several bills that would deny them certain rights.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page on Wednesday announced that he will appoint a task force to advise him on LGBTQ issues as state lawmakers prepare to pass several bills targeting transgender kids and teens.

Page said the task force would be made up of stakeholders from the queer community, including PROMO, the statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization. It would attempt to protect LGBTQ rights even as they are threatened by potential legislation from Missouri’s Republican-controlled legislature.

“Legislation has a political flavor," Page said, adding that the measures could affect access to health care. "We’re here to say these laws are bad ideas,” he said.

The Missouri legislature is considering several bills that would limit freedom of transgender people, including a bill that would prohibit transgender athletes from participating in sports that match their gender identity and one outlawing gender-affirming care for transgender children.

Page will appoint the members of the task force, which will have nine members to start. Page’s office will begin its search for members with help from PROMO, said county spokesman Doug Moore. Officials hope to hold its first meeting within a month.

The St. Louis County Council voted Tuesday to approve a resolution that supports gender-affirming care for transgender youth and teens.

The announcement also follows an uproar sparked earlier this month when a former case manager at a clinic that caters to transgender youthcriticized her former workplace. The former worker alleged the Washington University Pediatric Transgender Center in St. Louis ignored the mental health needs of young patients and provided medical transition services before properly vetting patients.

“What you see here is the top levels of government saying we stand with the transgender community, saying we stand with the families and these kids,” Page said.

The scope of the county’s power to fight new laws could be limited, Page said. Medical care is largely subject to state and federal laws.

While the appointment of a task force and the council’s non-binding resolution may seem symbolic, the actions serve to show the county’s LGBTQ residents have support from elected officials, said Katy Erker-Lynch, PROMO’s executive director.

Erker-Lynch said she recalls wanting to leave St. Louis County at 18 because she didn't think it was a good place for young gay people. A show of support would have helped her, she said.

“Actions like today, which might feel symbolic in a proclamation, actually are incredibly meaningful for young people, who know ‘you’re safe, we see you, and there are people in powerful positions fighting for you,’” she said.

What the task force will recommend will depend on which bills, if any, pass in the legislature, said Erker-Lynch.

“We’ve worked with counties across the state to provide nondiscrimination protections the state does not offer,” she said. “There’s always creative approaches we can take to make sure we can create spaces that are safe, affirming and inclusive. It will really depend on the legislation we see.”

Sarah Fentem is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.