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Kansas City declares itself a transgender ‘safe haven’ for Missouri. What that means

Kansas City Council is aiming to make the city a “safe haven” for those seeking gender-affirming health care.

A new resolution passed Thursday by the council on a vote of 11-1, with council member Heather Hall voting no.

The resolution, sponsored by Mayor Quinton Lucas and council members Andrea Bough and Eric Bunch, would instruct city personnel not to participate in the enforcement of several laws and an emergency order targeting transgender people in Missouri.

Kansas City has become a battleground of sorts for transgender rights in recent months, with Republican lawmakers on both sides of the state line pushing bills to regulate the lives of transgender and non-binary individuals ranging from school sports to public bathrooms to health care access.

“Resolutions are a statement of our intent,” Bough told The Star. “It sets a tone about how we view the trans community… (and) how we address and welcome all people.”

Kansas City’s resolution will mostly apply to the actions of city agencies, which play limited roles in enforcing state restrictions and penalizing those who violate them. If Missouri lawmakers decide that providing gender-affirming care is a crime, city employees will be excused from reporting or assisting investigations into providers and patients.

“The efficacy of this is based upon what we end up with in Jefferson City,” Lucas said in the committee hearing on the proposal Wednesday morning.

Here’s what the resolution says, and what it could mean for Kansas Citians.

What will the transgender safe haven resolution change in the city?

Essentially, the resolution gives city employees permission to look the other way when it comes to state laws targeting transgender people. The language of the resolution instructs city staff to treat the enforcement of laws banning gender-affirming health care as “their lowest priority.”

This might look like the city’s health department refusing to share data on trans patients with the state, the parks department allowing trans girls to join a female sports team at summer camp or a city code inspector putting reports of a gender-affirming clinic at the bottom of their agenda.

“We are, in essence, giving our (city) employees cover by saying, we don’t expect you to prosecute, to assist, to do certain things that are covered in the resolution,” Bough told The Star.

The resolution adds that the city won’t enforce other jurisdictions’ laws against gender-affirming care, and won’t release information or assist in turning people over for providing or receiving this care.

Lucas compared the resolution to the city’s approach to marijuana in recent years: The drug was technically illegal to possess and use under state law until this past December, but Kansas City and Jackson County chose to not punish people for marijuana possession.

“We’re not going to prioritize prosecuting our trans community,” Bough said in Wednesday’s hearing. “We are going to prioritize what we are here to do as a local government.”

What are the limits of the transgender safe haven resolution?

Several groups won’t see a change in their roles around gender-affirming health care under the new resolution. One of these groups is municipal prosecutors. That’s because they only pursue cases against those who violate city ordinances — not state orders or laws.

“There is nothing in the code of ordinances that would create an enforcement possibility for the city prosecutor’s office. So this actually does not apply, necessarily, to them,” Mayor Lucas said during Wednesday’s hearing.

Instead, county prosecutors will decide how to enforce Bailey’s ruling and any subsequent laws restricting trans health care. The city’s resolution wouldn’t have any impact on them.

Kansas City’s LGBTQ Commission has sent requests to Jackson, Clay, Platte and Cass County prosecutors asking them to adopt similar “safe haven” measures. So far, none of them have responded to The Star’s questions about how they plan to enforce Bailey’s ruling if it goes into effect.

Providers like doctors and pharmacists are licensed at the state level, which means their professional qualifications could be at risk if they violate the statewide emergency ruling.

“Safe haven” status in Kansas City is unlikely to change that, since the city doesn’t control the state boards that control this licensing. Instead, it may only discourage some city employees from reporting violations of the state ruling.

Another group that would not be impacted is the Kansas City Police Department.

The KCPD is the only police force in Missouri that’s controlled by a state board rather than being controlled locally. That means city officials can’t directly set police priorities — although a line in the resolution “encourages” the department to adopt a similar safe haven policy.

“I recognize the limitations of what we’re doing,” Council Member Bough told The Star. “There’s some symbolic nature to it. (But) we are doing what we can within the confines of the separation of state and local government.”

Do you have more questions about Kansas City’s policies towards gender-affirming health care? Ask the Service Journalism team at kcq@kcstar.com.