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Opinion | Alabama: It’s a pity

There are cheap votes out there to get. It doesn’t matter who politicians have to step on.


Let’s call it what it is. The law the Alabama Legislature passed this year that unconstitutionally restricts the kind of health care parents and physicians are allowed to administer for transgender teenagers was just cruel politics.

Transgender kids found themselves targets of the bully Republicans who used them as vote-getters during this year’s primaries. No doubt the trans-bashing will continue during this fall’s campaigns as well.

Very few Alabama lawmakers or politicians have any idea about the challenges and problems transgender kids face on a day-to-day basis.

Just as they have in the past, lawmakers picked their issue of the year, and health care delivered to transgender children was the pick. Not just in Alabama, but all over the country, where Republicans had any leverage.

As APR’s Jacob Holmes reported, the law “criminalizes parents who seek medical care for their transgender children, the doctors who provide this medical care, and anyone else who assists transgender young people to receive the gender-transitioning treatment(s).” Violators face up to 10 years in prison and a fine as high as $15,000.

Of course, this is ridiculous on its face, and a U.S. District Court took about a nano-second to set aside the law and prohibit its enforcement.

The hope, of course, is that the federal courts will continue to toss the law, which it should with little sweat. Medical decisions are the sole purview of parents, the kids, and their physicians, not a state Legislature full of men and women who have no idea about what they’re doing on this issue (and, frankly, many more, too).

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But what’s right never stops many Alabama politicians from campaigning from the middle of the gutter.

In past years, undocumented and documented immigrants have suffered the wrath of Alabama lawmakers (an anti-immigration law was mostly tossed out by federal courts) or, not that long ago, from making it illegal for black people to use restrooms and water fountains reserved for white people.

Again, the federal courts had to make Alabama do right. As our state motto says: “We Dare Defend Our Wrongs,” and Alabama leaders have shown they’re willing to spend millions of taxpayer dollars fighting these lost causes that usually involve some sort of racism, xenophobia, or homophobia. Even children struggling with the life issues of growing up are not off limits.

This “Tilting-At-Windmills” political philosophy makes our state look stupid. And some may wonder if that’s just a “look” or, perhaps, Alabama really is stupid. We won’t expand Medicaid so that hundreds of thousands of Alabama residents can qualify for health care. We refuse to pass a simple lottery so education and other programs can have additional funding, even though most every state in the nation already has a lottery.

The U.S. District Court stepped in to derail Alabama’s anti-trans law because, as Holmes writes, there is “substantial evidence that the law seeks to ban established, effective medical care and that doing so would cause severe harm.”

Don’t expect Alabama’s backward-thinking lawmakers to worry about hurting kids, though. Not if it means they might get more votes by isolating one segment of Alabama’s population as “evil” to create that hot-button issue.

Bigot Tim James made a public charter school in Birmingham a target for his homophobia. But other candidates, including Gov. Kay Ivey, jumped on board, and shame on her. She was going to win, no matter what.

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What’s a little child abuse along the way, right?

Usually when Alabama screws up like this – and it wasn’t a mistake; lawmakers intended to make children the target of their bullying – saner heads on the federal level clean up our mess. They’re pros at it. Everything from segregation, child welfare, mental health, prisons, to preserving racist Confederate monuments and fighting against marriage equality have been on Alabama politicians’ agendas. And they know the feds are going to keep them from violating the U.S. Constitution.

But, hey, there are cheap votes out there to get. It doesn’t matter who politicians have to step on, abuse, and bully.

In this case, full speed ahead and damn the transgenders.

We’ve done it wrong for so long in Alabama, we don’t even care to do it right. After all, wrong usually works here. At first.

Once the dust has settled, the laws are overturned, or the state is given an order to make something right – like child welfare, the prison system, and mental health – the politicians go on to some new, cruel campaign.

Until voters stop rewarding politicians for their ignorance and contemptible malfeasance in office, we won’t change.

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Alabama will continue to be one of the nation’s biggest laughingstocks or, probably worse, a state that attracts mostly pity.

We can change that. We truly can. It’s a pity that we won’t.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

More from APR


Alabama lawmakers passed a law last year that would criminalize doctors or parents for helping trans youth access gender-affirming care.


On Aug. 21, a panel of the 11th Circuit ruled to lift a preliminary injunction blocking a law banning gender-affirming care.


As the long hot summer ends and Labor Day approaches, let’s take a look back at what occurred.


The ruling by the three-judge federal appeals court removed an injunction issued in May 2022 by U.S. District Judge Liles Burke.