Missouri teachers who support a trans minor's social transition could face felony, be put on sex offender list under proposed bill

Social transitioning refers to changes in pronouns, name, clothing or hairstyle.

March 5, 2024, 1:11 PM

A new Missouri bill would make it a felony offense for school teachers or counselors to support or contribute to the social transitioning of a transgender minor. The proposed law would also have an offender be placed on the sexual offender registry.

Social transitioning, as defined in House Bill 2885, is when an individual adopts a name, pronouns and gender expression -- such as clothing or a haircut -- that does not match their assigned sex at birth.

If a teacher or counselor "provides support, regardless of whether the support is material, information or other resources," they could be convicted of a Class E felony conviction, facing up to four years in prison or a fine up to $10,000, according to the Missouri Revisor of Statutes. The bill is in the early stages of consideration and is subject to amendments if it progresses through the state Legislature.

Pedestrians walk along as snow flurries fall outside the Missouri State Capitol Building on January 17, 2021 in Jefferson City, Missouri.
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The bill's sponsor, Republican state Rep. Jamie Gragg, told local news outlet KY3 the bill would likely apply to the inclusion of any LGBTQ-related books or signs in classrooms.

The bill, introduced in the Missouri House on Thursday, is the latest escalation of legislation targeting the LGBTQ community being seen across the state and country. Missouri has passed several anti-LGBTQ laws in recent years, including a transgender sports ban and a gender-affirming youth medical care ban. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, there are currently 35 bills that would impact the LGBTQ community being considered by the Missouri Legislature.

Gragg told KY3 the bill was spurred by parents "who are frustrated with things that kids are being taught in school."

"This is to put the social learning development of our children back in the hands of the parents," Gragg said.

ABC News has reached out to Gragg's office for comment.

Social transitioning allows young people to explore and play with how they want to express themselves, experts say.

"The kind of generally accepted consensus in the field for these pre-pubertal kids is that if they want to explore any of those things, that we let them while making sure that they're doing it in a safe, supportive environment," Jack Turban, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, said in a past interview with ABC News.

Researchers have found that social transitioning had "positive and immediate" benefits on child development, with improvements in mood, self-esteem, and social and family relationships, as well as a reduction in anxiety, according to a January 2023 article published in Revista Española de Salud Pública, or the Spanish Journal of Public Health.

A separate study from the Journal of Adolescent Health found that trans youth may have worse mental health outcomes if they're "not protected from K-12 harassment based on gender identity."

"It is the responsibility of clinicians to emphasize the importance of adolescents having safe and affirming social environments," the study read.

A marcher carries a Transgender Pride flag during a march in Kansas City.
Kansas City Star/TNS via Getty Images

Transgender children make up an estimated 1.4% of the teen population between the ages of 13 and 17, according to a June 2022 data analysis from the UCLA School of Law.

PROMO, an LGBTQ advocacy organization in Missouri, said it's "telling" that lawmakers are more worried about students' gender expression than the other issues facing Missouri schools, including teacher shortages and drops in educational performance.

"It's rather telling that someone would rather spend time increasing harm for children, rather than ensuring that every single child in our state can thrive, that every single child in Missouri has access to education, that every single child in Missouri should have a safe and welcoming environment for their school," said Robert Fischer, PROMO's director of communications.

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