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A family caught up in Missouri's fight over transgender issues moves out of state

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Missouri is one of the states with new laws restricting health care and sports participation for transgender kids. Those restrictions are set to expire four years from now as part of a compromise between Republican and Democratic lawmakers. But one Missouri family says these laws have prompted them to leave the state. Kassidy Arena of member station KBIA has the story.

KASSIDY ARENA, BYLINE: Columbia, Mo., is a big college town located in the center of the state. It's where Katherine Sasser and her partner, Kelly, live with their three kids. This night, Sasser is cooking leftovers for dinner.

KATHERINE SASSER: Hey, y'all. It's time to come up and make your dinner selections.

ARENA: The family is in transition, living now in Sasser's parents' home before they head off to Colorado. It's a move that Sasser says is necessary because they no longer feel safe in the state.

SASSER: I can't tell you how grueling the last couple months have been and how hard it was when we were - before the decision. But now that we've made our decision, it's not easy to say goodbye. It's not easy to be in transition. But I know that we're doing the right thing for our family.

ARENA: Sasser's oldest child is 11 and transgender. She's a juvenile, so we're not using her name. She loves math and to play soccer. However, a new Missouri law goes into effect at the end of the month that bans trans children from playing sports that match their gender identity. Republican Representative Brian Seitz was a sponsor.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRIAN SEITZ: This bill is not about limiting anyone's ability to play sport. It's about protecting the fair and competitive balance that we currently have in women's sports.

ARENA: If schools do allow transgender kids to play on school teams that matched their gender identity, they will lose state funding. Another Missouri law bans health care for trans children, like puberty blockers and hormone prescriptions. And that's what spurred Sasser, a former Columbia school teacher, to resign her seat on the school board and for her family to consider moving elsewhere.

SASSER: You're sending a family who is contributing to its community in lots of different ways, and you're telling us that we're not welcome. And so I just hope that those people recognize, like, you're not just hurting individuals, you're actually hurting the collective good of the state.

ARENA: Current school board member Jeanne Snodgrass says she's disappointed Sasser's voice will no longer be on the board as an advocate for underrepresented communities.

JEANNE SNODGRASS: I think the reason that this family has to move is going to have a lasting impact. And I think that they are for sure not the first, and they're not going to be the last family that does that.

ARENA: Snodgrass says she knows a number of other families who have already left. While Sasser is trying to prepare her kids for the move, the two younger ones are particularly excited for the new things they'll try out in their new home. Things like...

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: Snowboarding.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: Going along with snowboarding, like, skiing.

ARENA: And the 11-year-old seems cautiously hopeful.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #3: I really just want to continue my sports and, like, find new friends and people.

ARENA: But she does have a question.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #3: To all the adults who are acting unkindly, why are you acting unkindly? And is it for the right reason?

ARENA: And Sasser says it's those types of questions people need to really consider in this fight over gender and identity. And while she's grieving over the loss of the family's life in Missouri...

SASSER: I think that the lightness of not having to fight for my kids' humanity in the place that I live is going to be such a freeing feeling.

ARENA: Sasser says the family is just about ready for the move. They plan to start their new life in Colorado before the new school year is underway.

For NPR News, I'm Kassidy Arena in Columbia, Mo.

(SOUNDBITE OF MELLOW DIVE'S "TEENAGE SADNESS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Kassidy Arena