South Dakota lawmaker has consulted with anti-LGBTQ groups on anti-trans health care bill
The Kelsey Coalition, a group less than a year old, has ascended from being featured in right-wing media to shaping policy
On January 22, a South Dakota legislative committee moved forward HB 1057, a dangerous bill that would make it a misdemeanor for medical professionals to provide trans youth with affirming medical care, such as prescribing lifesaving hormones or puberty blockers. While drafting the measure, the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Fred Deutsch (R), reportedly consulted with an anti-trans group called the Kelsey Coalition that has ascended with the help of right-wing media.
Anti-LGBTQ groups the Heritage Foundation, Alliance Defending Freedom, and Liberty Counsel also reportedly influenced the measure, which is expected to be voted on by the full South Dakota state House on January 29.
The Kelsey Coalition is a group of medical professionals, parents, and others who reject the identities of trans youth and advocate against affirming care. The Heritage Foundation gave the Kelsey Coalition its first major platform by featuring a member at a panel advocating against affirming the gender identities of trans youth.
According to The Washington Post, Deutsch attended a separate anti-trans event at the Heritage Foundation, at which organizations involved -- including the Kelsey Coalition -- released a co-branded parent resource guide on how to reject transgender children and advance policies to attack the trans community. Deutsch is also reported to have worked with extreme anti-LGBTQ groups Alliance Defending Freedom and Liberty Counsel on the bill.
Deutsch misleadingly titled his bill the “Vulnerable Child Protection Act,” but LGBTQ advocates have called it “very harmful” and “hope-stealing,” and said that “the bill spreads disinformation about the care trans youth need, and the options available.” It would criminalize lifesaving health care for transgender kids, including prescribing, dispensing, or administering puberty-blocking medications and hormone replacement therapy, as well as performing gender confirmation procedures or surgeries.
Such measures are in opposition to numerous medical studies that demonstrate that affirming care is a lifesaving necessity for many trans folks. Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued an official policy statement in 2018 encouraging taking a “gender-affirming” approach to trans youth and providing them with “developmentally appropriate health care.”
Lawmakers around the country are pushing for similar legislation, some of which share language with South Dakota’s bill, in states including Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and South Carolina. According to The Washington Post, “Some of the bills equate providing the medical treatments to child abuse, allowing parents to be reported to child welfare agencies and doctors’ licenses to be suspended or revoked.” Calling these treatments “child abuse” mirrors rhetoric pushed by right-wing media and anti-LGBTQ groups during coverage of a 2019 Texas child custody battle concerning a trans youth.
The Kelsey Coalition’s involvement with the bill demonstrates how anti-LGBTQ groups and media shape policy
South Dakota lawmakers have decided to ignore best practices from medical providers and rather listen to anti-LGBTQ groups like the Kelsey Coalition, which launched less than a year ago. This is a case study in how right-wing media and established anti-LGBTQ groups can shape discourse and policy by repeatedly exposing their audiences, including policymakers, to misinformation and bad actors.
The Kelsey Coalition started as a small, unknown group, but with the help of the Heritage Foundation, it quickly became a go-to source for right-wing media and eventually a presence in state policymaking, with stops at Fox News and the opinion pages of USA Today along the way.
Here’s how it happened:
In March 2019, the Kelsey Coalition was launched by parents who rejected their trans children’s gender identities.
On March 28, the Heritage Foundation gave the group its first major platform by featuring a member of the coalition on a panel which advocated against affirming the gender identities of trans youth. The panelist was the anonymous mother of a trans child, and she went under the pseudonym “Elaine.”
Following the panel, Elaine’s commentary was reprinted in Heritage’s media outlet The Daily Signal and right-wing evangelical outlet LifeSiteNews. The panel was also covered by The Christian Post.
Between April and July, several right-wing and evangelical outlets began writing about the Kelsey Coalition in anti-trans content, including National Review, PJ Media, CBN News, Church Militant, and The Christian Post.
In April, U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) cited the group's medical consultant Michael Laidlaw while advocating against the Equality Act during the bill's House Judiciary Committee hearing.
In May, Laidlaw testified before the British House of Lords, during which he pushed misinformation about health care.
On August 12, USA Today published an op-ed by the group, marking its first time being given a platform in a major mainstream media outlet. In the op-ed, a parent member denied his child’s trans identity and criticized conversion therapy protections, seemingly endorsing the dangerous and discredited practice.
On August 19, Fox News gave the group another high-profile media appearance on Laura Ingraham’s prime-time show The Ingraham Angle. During the segment, as in the USA Today op-ed, a parent member repeatedly denied her child’s trans identity and promoted conversion therapy.
On October 9, Deutsch attended a half-day event titled “Summit on Protecting Children from Sexualization,” which was co-hosted by anti-LGBTQ groups Heritage Foundation and Family Policy Alliance (FPA). At the event, Heritage unveiled a resource guide for parents detailing how they can reject their transgender children and advance policies to attack the trans community. The guide was supported by the Kelsey Coalition, Heritage, and FPA, among other groups.
On January 15, Deutsch introduced South Dakota’s HB 1057. On that same day, South Dakota paper the Argus Leader reported that “Deutsch said he worked on the legislation with Kelsey Coalition.” As it was originally drafted, Deutsch’s bill would have made it a felony for medical professionals to provide certain trans-affirming practices, though this was amended in committee to a misdemeanor.
On January 22, a Kelsey Coalition parent testified before the South Dakota House State Affairs Committee. The bill passed out of committee that day.
This bill is just one example of how right-wing media and anti-LGBTQ groups influence policy from the White House to state legislatures. For example, after right-wing media and figures maliciously wrote about the mother who accepted her trans child in the Texas custody case, state officials announced they would investigate her. Furthermore, anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom influenced anti-trans school policies across the country.
Heritage Foundation, in particular, has staffed federal agencies and hand-picked Supreme Court nominations under the Trump-Pence administration. The South Dakota bill demonstrates how such advocacy can affect policies at the state level as well.