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How Missouri became a national trendsetter for anti-trans bans and laws

Demonstrators took to the streets of downtown St. Louis to protest statewide policies and rhetoric targeting transgender people on April 16, 2023, outside of City Hall.
Danny Wicentowski
St. Louis Public Radio
Demonstrators took to the streets of downtown St. Louis to protest statewide policies and rhetoric targeting transgender people on April 16, 2023, outside City Hall.

Missouri’s 2023 legislative session was dominated by efforts to restrict the lives of trans people. By year’s end, lawmakers passed bans on gender-affirming care for youth and student sportsparticipation — and 2024’s session shows no sign of change.

Last month, lawmakers spent hours discussing trans-related bills that would go further than those passed in 2023. The proposed measures include bills that would target student bathroom access; another would allow medical institutions and doctors to deny care to trans children and adults.

But when it comes to legislation targeting trans people, what happens in Missouri goes beyond its border. Erin Reed, a trans journalist and author of the Erin in the Morning newsletter, recently called the state “ground zero for the firehose of anti-trans legislation” in a column for The Guardian.

Missouri’s bans have inspired bills in other states, and even other countries. Reed covers anti-trans legislation in statehouses across the U.S.; she told St. Louis on the Air that a Jan. 17 hearing, during which Missouri House members spent over eight hours discussing various proposals, was “the most bills that have been heard in a single day targeting trans people in a single state.”

Reed expects Missouri lawmakers to expand the scope of existing bans and to create laws that protect discrimination against trans people.

“I think that Missouri is going to continue to be one of the first,” she said. “I have not seen any indication that it is going to slow down. Other states like Florida [and] Texas have also sort of taken the first step to do things. And my eyes are on Missouri.”

Portraits side-by-side of Erin Reed and Evan Urquhart.
Courtesy of Erin Reed/Evan Urquhart
Trans journalists Erin Reed, left, and Evan Urquhart say Missouri is a major influence for other states seeking to restrict the rights of trans people.

Along with Reed, trans journalist Evan Urquhart, founder of Assigned Media, joined Monday's St. Louis on the Air to talk about Missouri’s national role in anti-trans efforts. A key factor in Missouri’s influence is the case of Jamie Reed, a former caseworker at Washington University’s Transgender Center at St. Louis Children's Hospital.

In February 2023, Reed went public with a whistleblower complaint that the clinic’s doctors were “permanently harming” children by allowing them to medically transition. An internal investigation by the university found her allegations unsubstantiated.

During the Jan. 17 hearing, Reed testified in favor of proposed bills restricting gender-affirming care for kids; she insists it is not “compassionate” to transition a child medically.

Urquhart reported on Reed’s claims, and, in multiple interviews with the clinic’s patients and their families, he found the purported accounts of abuse fell apart.

He said that Reed’s status as a whistleblower changed the national conversation — and added fuel to the fire being stoked by those opposed to trans people’s existence.

When he first read Reed’s whistleblower statement, Urquhart said: “On the surface of it, her allegations seemed quite plausible, something to take very seriously. … What I found out was that these were families who were devastated at having been included [in Reed’s allegations]. The center that they had really trusted was being misrepresented, was being presented as if it was damaging their children — when they knew their children were thriving, their children were trans, and that they had not in any way felt angry at the Transgender Center or felt like they had been harmed, which was the opposite of what Jamie Reed was saying.”

Erin Reed (no relation to Jamie Reed) said that accusations made against the St. Louis gender clinic is one example of the ways that fear is being used to support anti-trans legislation.

“It takes longer to fact check [the allegations] than it does for the legislators to pick them up and run with them,” Reed noted. “It makes it so that we're very prone to moral panics. We are very prone to disinformation driving negative legislation targeting trans people.”

To learn more about Missouri’s role in the national landscape of anti-trans legislation, and to explore insights from Erin Reed and Evan Urquhart, listen to St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify or Google Podcast or by clicking the play button below.

Listen to Erin Reed and Evan Urquhart on 'St. Louis on the Air'

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org.

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Danny Wicentowski is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."