Gay doctor flees Louisiana due to anti-LGBTQ+ laws: ‘I don’t have a choice’

A gay doctor who is one of Louisiana’s only specialist paediatric cardiologists has left the state after the introduction of a Don’t Say Gay copycat bill and a ban on gender-affirming care for trans youth.

Jake Kleinmahon, who was one of just three doctors specialising in heart transplants for children in Louisiana, chose to leave the state with his family, as they no longer felt safe.

Kleinmahon met and fell in love with his husband Tom in New Orleans, and the couple expected remain in Louisiana, even after retirement. However, he told CNN that the state’s anti-LGBTQ+ legislation has made him and his family feel unwelcome.

“I feel like I really make a difference here,” Kleinmahon said. “Before I came, any complex patients were having to be sent out of state for heart transplants. And I felt like the kids in Louisiana deserve to stay in Louisiana.”

The paediatric cardiologist explained that the “part that really solidified” his decision to leave was the passing of a copycat ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill.

“To think that if our kids went to public school and they were made fun of because they had two dads … the teacher would not be able to step in and make a learning experience about different types of families,” he said.

Back in June, Louisiana lawmakers sent a package of anti-LGBTQ+ bills to the Democratic governor for his signature, including a ban on gender-affirming care for trans youth and restrictions to LGBTQ-inclusive education. The latter included an iteration of Florida’s Don’t Say Gay bill, meaning any form of LGBTQ+ content is effectively banned in classrooms.

Although the ban on gender-affirming care was rejected by governor John Bel Edwards, this did not stop House Bill 648, as the veto was overridden. HB 648 is also known as the ‘Stop Harming Our Kids Act’, which Edwards said was an ironic title, since it would harm children itself.

Now expected to come into effect in January, the legislation bans hormone treatments, puberty blockers and gender-affirming surgeries for anyone under the age of 18. Gender-affirming surgeries are already not legal in the majority of countries worldwide, including the US and UK.

Kleinmahon also noted that the ban on gender-affirming healthcare for trans youth going ahead, despite being vetoed, is telling of where Louisiana could end up regarding LGBTQ+ rights.

“The way that the political landscape in Louisiana is going it’s pretty clear that these laws are going to pass eventually,” he said. “I’m really sad to leave, but I feel like I don’t really have a choice.

“We teach our children about kindness and about celebrating differences. And we hope that they recognise this [move] as us doing something so that they can live in an area where they can be free.

“They can be kind, they can celebrate different types of families.” 

Kleinmahon leaving Louisiana means there are now only two specialist doctors who handle children’s heart transplants in the entire state. “There is gonna be a hole that’s left when I leave. By far the hardest part of this decision was thinking about my patients,” he said.

On the day of his family’s departure, Kleinmahon wrote in a heartfelt Instagram post: “New Orleans, I truly do love you.

“Unfortunately, we’re breaking up. And it’s not you or me, it’s the state around you that does not support us raising a family. It’s the letters of hate I’ve received and the comments of ignorance that have made me move on. It’s the people who try to pass bills filled with hate.”

The cardiologist has accepted a job as director of Pediatric Heart Transplant, Heart Failure, and Ventricular Assist Devices at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in Long Island, New York. 

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