Some at protest call for Columbia to declare itself a sanctuary city

The first part of the phrase was familiar: “M-I-Z-Z-O-U.

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But protesters Friday at Jesse Hall added another part: ” When trans kids die, the blood’s on you.”

Dozens gathered first at Jesse Hall on the University of Missouri campus, then marched to City Hall and back to Jesse Hall.

The target of the protest was MU Health Care, for deciding to end treatment for transgender youth, including those it already was treating. The more than 200 gathered also condemned the legislators who approved the law and called for Columbia to declare itself a sanctuary city, as Kansas City has done.

A new state law prohibits health care providers from providing gender-affirming treatment to youths, but allowed providers to continue the treatments on patients already receiving it.

MU student organization Missouri Young Democratic Socialists of America organized the protest and march.

“It’s all about people coming together and I’m proud to be part of an organization that does that so well,” said organizer Mel Tully a transgender MU student and member of MYDSA.

In response to its decision, MU Health Care has said its doctors are at risk of future lawsuits if they continue to treat patients, including those they already were treating before the law took effect.

The new state law prohibits health care providers from providing gender-affirming treatment to youths, but it allowed providers to continue the treatments on patients already receiving it.

“Health care providers face significant legal liability for prescribing or administering cross-sex hormones or puberty-blockings drugs to existing minor patients under the new cause of action,” a statement from MU Health Care reads. “MU Health Care providers may continue to provide other types of gender affirming care not impacted by the law.”

The law states that health care providers could be liable for damages of $500,000 and more.

MU Health Care’s decision already has received criticism from Columbia state representatives.

One of them, Kathy Steinhoff, spoke for the others in the Columbia delegation on Friday.

“We were hurt and we were angry that the well-being of Missouri kids was being used for political gain,” Steinhoff said of the law.

She said she would be at a table on Speakers Circle on Tuesday, registering voters.

“Our voices are strong,” Steinhoff said. “Our votes are stronger.”

Harry Castilow spoke emotionally about his transgender son, Jay Castilow.

Jay Castilow, a transgender 17-year-old senior at Rock Bridge High School on Friday speaks to protesters at City Hall about MU Health Care's decision to end treatment of transgender youth.

“In February of 2021, our son introduced himself to us,” Harry Castilow said.

He did it by leaving a pamphlet where he and his wife could find it, titled “What To Do if You’re the Parent of a Trans Son.”

“Our child became our teacher,” he said.

Jay started hormone treatment in April 2022, Harry said.

“I could see my boy,” Castilow said. “I saw my son.”

All along, his doctors told them he was safe from the legislation, he said. Until the call from his doctor on Aug. 28, saying that treatment would end.

“I am angry,” Castilow said. “I am afraid for my son in this state. I’m betrayed. This university betrayed us.”

Jay Castilow, a 17-year-old senior at Rock Bridge High School, spoke at City Hall.

When he got the news his treatment was ending, his girlfriend asked if he would be okay, he said.

“They’ll kill kids and destroy lives,” he said of the decision.

Justice Horn, on the Kansas City LGBTQ Commission, wrote the law making it a sanctuary city.

It puts in place an infrastructure to protect health care for transgender youth, but also requires cooperation of police and a buy-in from the county prosecutor. It has that in Kansas City. St. Louis also is working on a sanctuary city law.

“We are working on one here,” said May Hall, a transgender Mizzou student. “And can I tell you a secret? I think we’re going to get it.”

Hall, who led the protest, had a message for the “rats” in the legislature and in MU Health Care administration hurting trans youth.

“Can you hear us now?” Hall said.

Rats was among the tamer phrases used for Republican legislators and MU Health Care officials during the protest.

Columbia Board of Education member Paul Harper is with the Center Project’s Parents for Parents group, a support group for parents of transgender children. His transgender child is an adult now, Harper said.

“The University of Missouri provided my child the very care they’re denying now,” Harper said.

The law serves only to further the political ambitions of those who approved it, Harper said.

“Make no mistake, this is about political power,” he said.

Roger McKinney is the Tribune’s education reporter. You can reach him at or 573-815-1719. He’s on X at @rmckiney9.

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