Meet the coalition of advocates fighting for Missouri’s trans youth

In the state with the most anti-trans legislation proposed this year thus far, families, school communities and even rabbis are banding together

The Midwestern state of Missouri currently holds the honour of being the U.S. state with the highest number of anti-trans bills filed, in a legislative session already breaking records across the U.S. for the number of anti-trans bills introduced. In Missouri, a ragtag coalition of lobbyists, teachers, administrators and religious leaders has been travelling from all parts of the state to the isolated capital of Jefferson City—a two-hours drive from both major cities in the state—every single week since the legislative session began. 

These advocates managed to prevent every single anti-trans bill introduced in 2022 from passing—which included several bills that would prohibit trans kids from participating in sports, receiving hormone therapy or changing sex markers on birth certificates. But this year’s intense attack “feels different,” according to Rabbi Daniel Bogard, who’s been lobbying for his nine-year-old son’s rights every year for the past five years. “I mean, there are literally more bills targeting trans kids who want to play sports than there are trans kids in Missouri who have asked to play sports in the past five years, combined,” he tells Xtra.

For one, Republican legislators such as Republican State Senator Mike Moon, who has introduced a number of anti-trans bills already, have explicitly declared passage of such measures to be a legislative priority this year—a priority that goes against even Republican Governor Mike Parson’s ideas of what they should focus on. (In his state of the state address, Gov. Parson said that his priority for the legislative session would be expanding highways and increasing funding for Missouri schools—which are so underfunded and understaffed that over a quarter are functioning on a four-day school week.) 

Missouri Republicans, however, have determined that this year they will focus on a slate of bills that would restrict medical care for trans people, prevent trans youth from accessing transition care entirely, prohibit trans middle schoolers from participating in sports and prohibit public school teachers from “providing classroom instruction relating to sexual orientation or gender identity.” 

Bogard spoke with Xtra Wednesday, after spending the day going from door-to-door in the capitol building, lobbying individual lawmakers for his family’s rights. In the meetings, especially with Republican legislators, “We beg,” Bogard says. 

“This is trans kids and their families coming and begging the legislators to stop. It’s profoundly degrading, in some really deep ways,” he adds. “And it’s all that we’ve got.” 

Bogard purposefully doesn’t bring his trans child to testify in the legislature, saying that it would be too traumatizing for him. Instead, his elder son, who is 11, testifies on behalf of his brother. On Tuesday, Jan. 31, five different bills attempting to ban trans people from participating in sports were heard in the Missouri Senate Emerging Issues Committee. Bogard’s elder son was one of two 11-year-old children who testified. 


 “I love living here in Missouri, and now I’m scared that I might have to move away because of these bills. My family and my friends are just trying to live their lives here in Missouri. You are hurting us and scaring us.”

“It’s been years that you’ve been trying to take things away from people I love who are just little kids,” he said to the members of the Senate Emerging Issues Committee. “It’s affecting my dad because now he goes here every other week to wait for hours to make a small speech that might not mean anything to you. It’s affected me because I love living here in Missouri, and now I’m scared that I might have to move away because of these bills. My family and my friends are just trying to live their lives here in Missouri. You are hurting us and scaring us.” 

Raquel Scharf-Anderson, principal of Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School also testified. The school has committed to sending a member of their upper administration to speak at every single hearing this session. 

“I am confident that these bills will cause harm,” Scharf-Anderson said. “I cannot imagine that children would not be allowed to play sports with their friends.”

Meanwhile, those in favour of banning trans kids from sports participation also testified. Calvin Mead, from Jefferson City, referred to trans people as “mentally ill and confused,” and said that “[trans people’s] true goal is the destruction of all things good and right and moral.” Others testified as to their fear that trans girls would take athletic scholarship opportunities from their daughters. There has not been a single trans girl who has ever received an athletic scholarship in Missouri—and there have been fewer trans kids attempting to play sports in Missouri over the past five years than there are currently bills attempting to prevent them from doing so. And as representatives from national LGBTQ2S+ advocacy organizations The Trevor Project and Athlete Ally took the stand afterward, state Senator Andrew Koenig grilled them as to their “definition of a woman” and asked questions such as “Do you believe that objective morality can be determined?” 

Hearing this kind of rhetoric can be hurtful to young trans people who commute to the capital every legislative session to tell their stories. One father who testified said that his child had stopped going to the capital altogether after being interrogated regarding their genitals. 

“They’re at home, in a therapy session … because last year, when they came to testify, they were asked an inappropriate question by a member sitting in front of this body today,” he said, speaking to the legislature. “The trauma that these kids experience by you debating whether their existence is real … that’s a real, lasting effect.” 

Shira Berkowitz, director of public policy for PROMO, a Missouri LGBT2S+-rights organization, says that this year, advocates are working in shifts—one group might commute in from St. Louis one week, and another from Kansas City the next, so that trans children and their families aren’t entirely burned out by spending time in the imposing, cold capitol building week after week. (The week of Jan. 24, several anti-trans bills were added to the slate at the last minute, forcing advocates to scramble to Jefferson City in the middle of a snowstorm—and, in some cases, wait until 2 a.m. in the capitol building—to speak.) 

“These bills are moving faster than they have … any time in the past decade,” Berkowitz says. “This is the number-one wedge issue coming into the 2024 elections.”

Though none of the bills have passed so far (unlike in other U.S. states, like Utah), Berkowitz notes that the rhetoric associated with them is still the “most dangerous piece.… So, while children and adults still have their full rights of access to healthcare that they need, the education that they deserve, the opportunities to play sports with their peers … the [anti-trans] rhetoric creates a chilling effect in all of those realms.” Recent research backs them up: 2022, more than 60 percent of LGBTQ2S+ young people polled by The Trevor Project said that the introduction of legislation attempting to limit their rights and safety negatively impacted their mental health, regardless of whether that legislation passed. 

Tori Schafer, policy lead for the ACLU of Missouri, says that while the Missouri Republican supermajority’s number-one priority may be to pass anti-trans legislation, the ACLU’s number-one priority is to stop them. “It’s been case law for a very long time that you cannot discriminate against people on the basis of sex,” she says. “We think that these bills that are put forward today are in violation of the constitution of the state of Missouri.” 

Nonetheless, advocates such as Greg Razer—Missouri’s only openly gay state senator—are uncertain whether they’ll be able to stop every part of the flood of bills from passing this time around. “I don’t know what to tell you about this year,” he said, addressing a group of trans people and supporters after Tuesday’s hearings. “But I do know what to tell you about the years to come: just like every other time they’ve gone to war with our community, they win a few battles, but they always lose the war.” 

As for Bogard and his family, they will continue to watch anxiously as the bills move through the legislature—and return to talk to legislators every week if they have to. But they know that, if things get bad enough, they’ll be forced to leave their home state. 

“I live in a house that my grandpa built, that my dad grew up in, that my children are growing up in now,” Bogard says. He has his dream job, he says—as a rabbi at Central Reform Congregation, a young, progressive synagogue with a heavy trans presence—and loves building a life in his hometown, surrounded by his extended family and lifelong community. The Bogards are clear that they do not want to leave Missouri. 

“But if we get to a point where we have to choose between what feels existentially important for our child, and living in this state, we will flee,” he says. “It’s not a flippant thing that we’re talking about. It’s doing right by our child and not having to fear that the government goons are going to show up at our door to take our kid away.” 

Another set of anti-trans bills are due to be heard in the Missouri legislature Feb. 7, including an extreme version of a “Don’t Say Gay” bill

Sophie Hurwitz

Sophie Hurwitz is a St. Louis, Missouri-based journalist and editor who believes in the power of community storytelling.

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