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Anti-LGBTQ ex-lawmaker in Kansas indicted in COVID relief fraud

Capps has been indicted for a total of 19 federal crimes stemming from the FBI investigation into his COVID financial relief fraud actions

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Michael Capps (Photo credit: Screenshot from YouTube campaign advert 2020)

WICHITA, Ks. – A federal grand jury in Wichita indicted a Kansas man on charges he defrauded federal, state, and local agencies of more than $450,000 in COVID-19 business recovery funds. According to court documents, Michael Capps, 43, a former Republican state lawmaker was charged with creating and submitting false and fraudulent documents to receive a coronavirus pandemic Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loan.

Capps is also charged with submitting false and fraudulent documents on behalf of the companies he owns or has majority ownership to the Small Business Administration (SBA) for Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL), as well as to the Kansas Department of Commerce for Small Business Working Capital grants, and to Sedgwick County for a Sedgwick County Cares grant.

According to the office of Assistant United States Attorney Alan Metzger in Wichita, Capps has been indicted for a total of 19 federal crimes stemming from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) criminal investigation into Capps’ COVID-19 pandemic financial relief fraud actions.

Capps, while serving in the Kansas State House, had authored draft legislation that would prohibit Trans students in schools who are members of the Kansas State High School Activities Association from competing on school sport teams. Capps legislation specified that whose biological gender at birth was male would be barred from competing in interscholastic sports exclusively for females and vice versa.

At the time the legislation was being proposed last year, Equality Kansas Executive Director Thomas Witt told the Sunflower State Journal, a non-partisan, independent publication in the state capital city of Topeka that covers and reports on the events at the Kansas capitol and
elsewhere throughout the state;

If Capps “were truly interested in the safety and welfare of children, he would work to end discrimination against the most vulnerable kids in our schools,” Witt said. “Instead he wants to put a target on the back of every transgender and gender non-conforming child in Kansas – one of the populations most vulnerable to discrimination, bullying, and violence, and suicide.”

Equality Kansas had obtained an advance draft of the measure. Capps  the Topeka Capital-Journal, the released draft isn’t final and the Girls Athletic Protection Act would ensure fair competition in high school athletics.

“The bill isn’t any kind of attack on the LGBTQ community but a bill to protect biological girls who want fair competition in sports,” Capps said. “The GAP Act is meant to maintain fairness in competition. This issue has begun to cause national controversy, and as a state we should be proactive to avoid controversy down the road.”

Ultimately Capps was defeated in a primary bid and was replaced by retired Army Capt. Patrick Penn, a conservative Republican who was elected in November of 2020. The draft never was placed into consideration by a legislative committee.

A bill brought forward in the Kansas Senate earlier this year by State Sen. Renee Erickson, a Wichita Republican, that essentially mirrored Capps draft legislation would have banned participation of Trans youth athletes in high school and college in girls’ and women’s sports in the Sunflower State. That measure was vetoed by Democratic Governor Laura Kelly.

Kelly labeled the legislationKansas Senate Bill 55, “a devastating message” to families in Kansas.

The Topeka-Capital Journal reported that Kelly raised concerns over the impact such legislation would have on the state’s economy but also argued in her veto message that Senate Bill 55 would have an impact on the mental health of transgender youth and was counter to Kansas’ status as “an inclusive state.”

“This legislation sends a devastating message that Kansas is not welcoming to all children and their families, including those who are transgender — who are already at a higher risk of bullying, discrimination, and suicide,” Kelly wrote.

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Kansas town’s officials threaten library over LGBTQ+ books again

City council says they don’t want ‘garbage’ on the public library’s shelves- the library should reflect the community’s Christian majority

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St. Marys city commissioners have taken offense with a transgender book in the Pottawatomie Wabaunsee Regional Library. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

By Rachel Mipro | ST. MARYS, KS. — Gerard Kleinsmith says he hates the idea of censorship.

He just wants to pull the lease for the city’s public library because he doesn’t like books about transgender people.

As a city commissioner, he feels it is his duty to remove transgender content — “garbage,” as he refers to it. Kleinsmith said during a city commission meeting that removing the library was part of his job as a city official, emphasizing “God doesn’t make mistakes,” and his belief that people can’t change genders.

“My goal is to terminate the lease with the library,” Kleinsmith said. “If they want to have their library, so be it. Go do it. Find another building to do it in, I can’t stop that. My intention is not to stop that, but I will not ever vote for any taxpayer money, facilities, anything to be used anywhere that houses this kind of garbage.”

He is supported in this stance by the other members of St. Marys’ five-person city commission, a heavily religious group that attends the Society of St. Pius X, or SSPX, an extreme religious sect that broke away from the Catholic church. The commissioners have said at previous meetings that their views are influenced by their religious affiliation.

“Some things are wrong,” said commissioner Richard Binsfeld, during a city commission discussion about  transgender books and the transgender community at large. “If you live up to your morals, if you stand by your morals at all, you’d look at it and say, ‘Why do we have it?’”

The public library has been under scrutiny from local officials for months, narrowly surviving an attempt to pull the lease at the end of last year. Library director Judith Cremer said she and her staff were trying to work with the commissioners while remaining in accordance with legal guidelines for public libraries.

She’s still not sure why the commissioners have taken issue with the library in recent months when it had operated in its St. Marys location for decades without problems. Cremer has held her position since 2003, and until last year, this was a position without controversy.

“We’re not part of the city structure and the lease agreement is the only leverage that they have seemed to be able to find,” Cremer said. “They seem to be continuing down that road, which I’m disappointed with because we have still been here doing our job, trying to help people, trying to do summer reading, and I feel like it’s a misunderstanding of who we are. We are trying to do our job and we have followed the rules.”

While commissioners have no governing influence over the library, the Pottawatomie Wabaunsee Regional Library would be forced to shift locations if the lease isn’t renewed, giving up a community spot it has held for decades and depriving St. Marys residents of easily accessible library material.

The library has been housed in St. Marys since the 1980s, operating on an annual lease with the city. The library acts as the headquarters for eight locations, including Alma, Alta Vista, Eskridge, Harveyville, Olsburg, Onaga, St. Marys and Westmoreland, with county residents funding the library through taxes.

An eight-member board of trustees provides oversight of the library’s operations, with Pottawatomie and Wabaunsee County commissioners appointing members to the board to serve four-year terms. The commission doesn’t have influence over board decisions.

The library formed an advisory group in an attempt to address community concerns with library materials, but efforts toward reconciliation have been unsuccessful.

The library’s lease renewal came up for debate last year because the library refused to accept a renewal clause asking for the removal of all LGBTQ and socially divisive books from the shelves. Facing intense public pressure, the commission in December renewed the lease for one year.

Now, city commissioners have renewed their campaign against LGBTQ books, despite federal legal protections for public libraries.

St. Marys City Commissioner Richard Binsfeld says the library’s LGBTQ books conflict with his sense of morals. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

During the April city commission meeting, Kleinsmith raged against the book “Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition,” a coming of age story about a transgender teenager.

“This author is absolutely wrong. God does not make mistakes,” Kleinsmith said. “God cannot make a mistake. We can make mistakes. Mankind can make a mistake. God cannot make a mistake. … I will do everything I can to fight this kind of garbage.”

“If God makes you as a male, you are a male,” he added. “If God makes you a female, you are a female, no matter what.”

St. Marys Mayor Matthew Childs, who formulated the anti-LGBTQ renewal clause last year, said during the April meeting that the library’s contents would once again influence the commission’s decision to renew the lease.

“We don’t want transgender books in the library. … The elephant in the room is that we don’t want the library to be promoting certain types of material,” Childs said. “If the library is, we come back to the question, do we want to renew it at all?”

Sharon Brett, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, which warned commissioners to drop their censorship attempts during the first lease renewal discussion, said city officials need to remember constitutional protections.

“Each member of the commission should remember that their own discomfort with a certain book does not justify restricting its availability to everyone else in the community,” Brett said. “Not only is this potential censorship authoritarian, it has implications under even a basic reading of our First Amendment. We urge the commission to remember their obligations under the Constitution.”

Cremer said she and the library board had been trying to cooperate with the commission and concerned residents as much as possible.

“We’re providing services to the community,” Cremer said. “We’re taking care of the same people. I don’t see why there should be a problem.”

Following the April commission meeting, she sent a letter to the commissioners asking them to directly address their concerns with library staff, as they had a process in place to review book complaints.

Library staff are also participating in the advisory committee. Cremer said the library was sending regular updates about the library and the advisory committee’s work to the city commission.

But she is still fielding criticism from religious members of the community, including during a contentious June 28 library board meeting attended by Binsfeld and other St. Marys residents. 

“As we move forward, we would like to see that all LGBTQ+ media — whether audio files, movies, books, activities, etc. — be removed from this branch altogether and from any access, including online ordering and inter-library loans, to any minor through this branch,” resident Stephen Murtha wrote in a letter to library board members.

The library should reflect the community’s Christian majority, Murtha wrote.

Cremer said for the most part, these complaints were from a small segment of the population and that she hasn’t had problems or complaints from a majority of library customers.

But she is concerned about the future of the library.

“We have continued, even though that stress and controversy has been significant,” Cremer said. “My staff and I have continued forward just as we always have to provide those services, because it’s not the people that we’re serving, it’s not their fault, but they’re the ones that are going to be losing.”

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Rachel Mipro

A graduate of Louisiana State University, Rachel Mipro has covered state government in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. She and her fellow team of journalists were 2022 Goldsmith Prize Semi-Finalists for their work featuring the rise of the KKK in northern Louisiana, following racially-motivated shootings in 1960. With her move to the Midwest, Rachel is now turning her focus toward issues within Kansas public policies.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Kansas Reflector and is republished with permission.

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ACLU of Kansas files to intervene over gender marker ban

“The so-called ‘Women’s Bill of Rights’ is a blatant effort to control and stigmatize transgender residents of the state”

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Former Vice President Mike Pence with Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach. (Photo Credit: Office of AG Kris Kobach/Facebook)

TOPEKA, KS. – The ACLU of Kansas, the ACLU, and Stinson LLP today filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit between Attorney General Kris Kobach and the Kansas Department of Revenue, on behalf of five transgender Kansans who would be irreparably harmed by an unconstitutional effort by Kobach to ban and reverse changes to the gender markers on their driver’s licenses.

Citing a new law passed by the Kansas state legislature over a veto by Governor Laura Kelly attempting to limit the rights of transgender people, Attorney General Kobach filed a lawsuit in state court on July 7 against the government agency that issues driver’s licenses, asking the court to prohibit transgender people from changing their gender markers on their driver’s licenses. Judge Teresa Watson granted a temporary restraining order early Monday morning before the state could respond, which has blocked the Kelly administration from allowing gender marking changes while the case goes forward.

The motion to intervene will be formally docketed tomorrow, July 12.

“Mr. Kobach’s actions demonstrate a flagrant attempt to do an end-run around our state constitution,” said Sharon Brett, Legal Director of the ACLU of Kansas. “Mr. Kobach is choosing to focus the power of the attorney general’s office on, of all things, attacking and discriminating against transgender Kansans, and it is insulting to all Kansans that Mr. Kobach and other extremists who propped up SB 180 claim to be helping women, when they have made no efforts to meaningfully do so. Instead, they have weaponized women’s rights in a way that actually re-entrenches the oppressive gender stereotypes that hurt all of us. Our clients deserve to live their lives free of harassment, discrimination, and violence – all consequences that Mr. Kobach’s erroneous legal interpretations are designed to encourage.”

“The so-called ‘Women’s Bill of Rights’ is a blatant effort to control and stigmatize transgender residents of the state,” said Ria Tabacco Mar, Director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “Limiting freedom for trans people worsens conditions for all women by re-entrenching the very gender stereotypes that have underpinned centuries of women’s oppression. We will continue to fight for everyone in Kansas to live fully and authentically.”

Today’s motion to intervene is available here. The intervenors will also be filing a motion to oppose the preliminary injunction requested by Kobach and support the Kansas Department of Revenue’s motion to dissolve the Temporary Restraining Order issued by Judge Watson. The filing was submitted Tuesday and will be docketed Wednesday morning.

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Kansas judge orders state stop gender markers on driver’s licenses

Prior to 2007, Kansas law required the Department of Revenue to document an applicant’s sex on the driver’s license

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The administration of Gov. Laura Kelly filed a rebuttal brief to a Shawnee County District Court judge’s issuance of a temporary restraining order blocking Kansans from altering gender on driver’s licenses. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

By Tim Carpenter | TOPEKA, KS. – Attorneys for the Kansas Department of Revenue requested a hearing to argue for reversal of the temporary restraining order issued by a district court judge to block issuance of driver’s licenses to Kansans seeking to amend their gender marker on the card.

The administration of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly filed the request in response to the 14-day temporary order issued Monday by Judge Teresa Watson, a 2014 appointee of Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. Watson’s order was based on a request Friday by Attorney General Kris Kobach to enforce his interpretation of Senate Bill 180, which he contended forbid Kansans from modifying the sex marker of Kansas birth certificates, driver’s licenses or other identification documents.

Attorneys in the Kelly administration responded by arguing the law pushed through by Republican majorities in the House and Senate over the governor’s veto exclusively addressed sex determinations recorded on birth certificates controlled by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. The statute didn’t deal with gender information recorded on driver’s licenses handled by the Department of Revenue, the administration said.

Since Jan. 1, more than 500 people have sought to alter gender on driver’s licenses in Kansas. That included 172 in June prior to implementation of the law July 1.

Move to quash

Ted Smith, an attorney representing the state Department of Revenue, argued in a filing the temporary restraining order should be dissolved and a full hearing set. He said granting the restraining order without the hearing “should never change the status quo” and undermine a principle that the relative position of both sides in a dispute should be preserved until a decision on merits of the case.

He said quashing the restraining order would enable the Department of Revenue to continue modifying driver’s licenses in terms of gender markers under a process that retained historical information on gender selection, including sex at birth derived from Kansas birth certificates. The Department of Revenue’s process has been in place since 2007 and was backed by administrative changes implemented in 2011.

“Petitioner is requesting an affirmative change from the status quo, that KDOR diverge from its current process of relying upon gender for purposes of developing identity,” Smith’s motion said. “There is no established, actual harm shown by the petitioner if KDOR’s processes are maintained — beyond hypothetical cases.”

Kobach, who was elected attorney general in November and lost the 2018 gubernatorial race to Kelly, filed a lawsuit in Shawnee County to compel the Kelly administration to reform processing of driver’s licenses to identify people as either male or female. Those constraints ignored people with chromosomal variations, such as intersex people, or individuals with diverse gender identities, such as transgender or nonbinary people.

Separately, Kobach filed in U.S. District Court to alter a 2019 agreement allowing Kansans to amend gender markers on birth certificates issued by KDHE.

‘Will be serious harm’

In the driver’s license brief, Smith said accurately recording gender on licenses supported the purpose of checking identity of an individual during a law enforcement traffic stop, when cashing a check or getting on an airplane. The driver’s license would more useful when the appearance of a person matched information contained on the card, he said.

He argued the judge’s reliance on an immediate temporary restraining order was inappropriate unless “there is a clear legal duty attached.” Authority claimed by the attorney general under the new state law wasn’t clearly established by Senate Bill 180, he said.

“Rather it is clear that driver’s licensing specific statutes continue to control and KDOR’s actions are concordant with law. There will be serious harm and public impact to individuals if they must reclassify their gender as requested by the petitioner,” the reply motion said.

The bill approved by the 2023 Legislature was drawn from model legislation advocated by a national organization with a history of opposing women’s rights, including the Equal Rights Amendment and equal pay. It was championed by Independent Women’s Voices, which advocated for the bill in Kansas and other states to counter spread of “transgender ideology.”

The Kelly administration says the two-page bill, also known legislatively in Kansas as the Women’s Bill of Rights, wasn’t tailored to specifics of Kansas law, including the distinct process of dealing with driver’s licenses and birth certificates. The law also didn’t contain an enforcement mechanism, raising questions about how the state would deal with actions viewed as contrary to statute.

Prior to 2007, Kansas law required the Department of Revenue to document an applicant’s sex on the driver’s license. Senate Bill 9, however, change the driver’s license field from sex to gender, which standardized the process of evaluating documentation such as a U.S. passport or birth certificates from another state.

The 2011 administrative policy, crafted by the Brownback administration, enabled the Department of Revenue to address inconsistent processing of requests to adjust gender markers and grapple with potential Americans with Disability Act claims.

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Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Kansas Reflector and is republished by permission.

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Kansas AG sues to strip gender markers on IDs of trans Kansans

The new law is based on model legislation from a far-right group and attempts to strip transgender residents of their identity

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Kris Kobach offers his opinion during a June 26, 2023, news conference about how Senate Bill 180 should be implemented. (Sam Bailey/Kansas Reflector)

By Sherman Smith | TOPEKA, KS. – Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach chastised Gov. Laura Kelly in a court filing Friday for recognizing the identities of transgender residents in a dispute over gender markers on driver’s licenses.

In a petition filed in Shawnee County District Court, Kobach asked the court to order the Kansas Department of Revenue’s Division of Vehicles to comply with Senate Bill 180, which took effect July 1, and issue driver’s licenses that reflect a resident’s sex at birth.

The new law is based on model legislation from a far-right group and attempts to strip transgender residents of their identity. The governor’s office said last week that state agencies would continue to issue documents that reflect an individual’s gender.

Quoting John Adams — “we have ‘a government of laws, and not of men’ ” — and invoking the Declaration of Independence, Kobach argued the governor must execute laws passed by the Legislature whether she likes them or not.

“She does not possess the power that English monarchs claimed prior to the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688, namely, the power to suspend the operation of statutes,” Kobach wrote in the filing. “Indeed, the Declaration of Independence was in part a reaction to this practice.”

Kelly, a Democrat, defeated Kobach, a Republican, in the 2018 election for governor. Kelly won reelection in November, while Kobach was elected attorney general.

“While the attorney general has a well-documented record of wasteful and political lawsuits, Governor Kelly is faithfully executing the laws of the state and has directed her administration to as well,” said Brianna Johnson, a spokeswoman for the governor. “We look forward to the Kansas Department of Revenue being able to present its case in court.”

As secretary of state, Kobach lost a high-profile case in 2018 in which he failed to prove claims of voter fraud, was held in contempt of court, ordered by the judge to take additional legal classes, and left taxpayers with a costly bill.

The Legislature overrode a veto from Kelly to adopt SB 180, which supporters refer to as the Women’s Bill of Rights. Civil rights attorneys criticized the law, and transgender residents held multiple protests at the Statehouse.

Legal interpretations of the law are muddled, in part, because it attempts to define “male” and “female” through a flawed and narrow understanding of biology. Some feared the law could be used to restrict access to bathrooms or other gender-specific areas, but the law lacks an enforcement mechanism or penalty.

Under the law, gender is defined by reproductive systems. The law requires public documents to designate gender based on that definition.

The law and its supporters ignore the distinction between sex, which deals with biological characteristics, such as reproductive systems, and gender, which is a social and personal identity.

Kobach previously asked a federal court judge to reconsider a 2019 settlement in which the state agreed to let residents change the gender marker on their birth certificates. The Kelly administration said the Kansas Department of Health and Environment would continue to honor the 2019 agreement.

A banner across the top of the Kansas Department of Revenue’s website makes the state’s position clear: “The enactment of Senate Bill 180 on July 1 will not impact the longstanding procedures for obtaining, renewing, and updating a Kansas driver’s license as they pertain to gender markers.”

Kobach’s petition in Shawnee County acknowledges that state statute requires driver’s licenses to reference a person’s “gender,” but Kobach argues the term should be synonymous with “sex.” The driver’s license itself uses the word “sex” next to a person’s gender.

Mark Burghart, revenue secretary, and David Harper, director of vehicles, are defendants in the case.

“The attorney general reluctantly brings this action to force the governor’s subordinates … to do what the Women’s Bill of Rights clearly tells them they must do: issue driver’s licenses that reflect a person’s sex at birth and stop letting people select their sex designation at will,” Kobach wrote in the petition. “Someone must stand up for the law, even if the governor won’t.”

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Sherman Smith is the Editor in chief of the Kansas Reflector and is the Kansas Press Association’s journalist of the year. He has written award-winning news stories about the instability of the Kansas foster care system, misconduct by government officials, sexual abuse, technology, education, and the Legislature. He previously spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. A lifelong Kansan, he graduated from Emporia State University in 2004.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Kansas Reflector and is republished by permission.

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Trans Kansas women barred from women’s bathrooms

Republican-majority legislature overrides Gov. Kelly’s veto to pass far-reaching ban & could put federal funding for state programs at risk

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Kansas lawmakers overrode Gov. Laura Kelly's veto of Senate Bill 180, which targets transgender women and girls. (Photo Credit: Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

By Rachel Mipro | TOPEKA —  The Legislature successfully resurrected a transgender bathroom ban that bars transgender and intersex women from restrooms, locker rooms, rape crisis centers and other female-specific spaces, making Kansas the first state to enact such a wide-ranging measure.

Rep. John Alcala, a Topeka Democrat, said the language of the bill reminded him of prejudiced arguments for segregation made in the 1960s.  

“It’s the same sayings,” Alcala said. “I don’t want you in my bathroom, I don’t want you drinking  out of my water fountain. I don’t want you over at my house. I don’t want my kid hanging out with you.”

The new law comes after months of upheaval, with legislators narrowly overturning Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of Senate Bill 180 over two days. Senators voted 28-12 Wednesday to send the bill back to the House for a final vote. The House voted 84-40 Thursday to overrule Kelly’s veto and make the ban a law. The threshold for veto overrides is 84 votes in the House and 27 in the Senate.

The legislation, billed by its supporters as a “women’s bill of rights,” bars individuals who are born without the ability to produce eggs for reproduction from using women’s restrooms, locker rooms and other gender-specific areas.

The ban applies to athletics, prison facilities, domestic violence shelters and “areas where biology, safety or privacy are implicated that result in separate accommodations.” 

The legislation also classifies people with developmental differences, including those who are intersex, as disabled. Intersex individuals would have their own separate facilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a classification that  disability rights and equality rights have called wildly offensive. 

Kansas Republicans justified the legislation by claiming that women are in danger of having their rights usurped by transgender or nonbinary individuals. None of them has been able to point to any evidence of this happening in Kansas. 

House Speaker Dan Hawkins said the legislation would help reduce violence toward women.

“The activists who seek to change the definition of a woman ignore the biological differences that exist between the sexes and recklessly expose females to specific forms of violence, including sexual violence, therefore compromising the safety of female-only spaces such as restrooms, domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers and prisons,” Hawkins said.

Rep. Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican, said the bill was about protecting girls and women. 

“Little girls should not have to be exposed to a man in a female bathroom, but the biggest thing comes down to women’s rights, when we fought for 50 years,” Landwehr said. “Why should our rights be taken away?”

Other female legislators pushed back on this characterization of the bill, including Rep. Susan Ruiz, a Lenexa Democrat and the first openly lesbian representative in the House. 

Ruiz said she has experienced male harassment when using women’s restrooms due to her more masculine appearance and believes the bill, along with other damaging effects, would escalate this sort of harassment.

“This is going to just open up the doors for that and allow much more of that to go on,” Ruiz said. “If you really are here for the kids, you’re going to sustain the veto on this bill. You’ve got to think beyond what these words are. You’ve got to think beyond that and think about what the true ramifications are.” 

Kelly’s administration has warned that enactment of the legislation could put federal funding for multiple Kansas state agency programs that focus on women and girls at risk. The list includes domestic violence and sexual assault grants governed by federal guidelines that prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. 

According to the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, SB 180 compliance could put more than $17 million in funding to Kansas agencies at risk.

The House originally voted 83-41 for the legislation, with the Senate concurring 28-12 to move the bill to Kelly’s desk. Kelly vetoed SB180 on April 20, along with several other bills targeting the transgender population, citing concerns about the bills’ broad scope. 

Senators failed to override the governor’s veto of a bill banning gender-affirming care for minors Wednesday, but several other measures have been or are likely to be successful. 

Republicans overrode Kelly’s veto of a bill requiring county jails to separate inmates by sex assigned at birth Wednesday and are likely to successfully override her veto of a school bill separating students by sex assigned at birth for overnight school field trips in coming days.

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Rachel Mipro

A graduate of Louisiana State University, Rachel Mipro has covered state government in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. She and her fellow team of journalists were 2022 Goldsmith Prize Semi-Finalists for their work featuring the rise of the KKK in northern Louisiana, following racially-motivated shootings in 1960. With her move to the Midwest, Rachel is now turning her focus toward issues within Kansas public policies.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Kansas Reflector and is republished with permission.

Kansas Reflector is a nonprofit news operation providing in-depth reporting, diverse opinions and daily coverage of state government and politics. This public service is free to readers and other news outlets.

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Kansas Governor vetoes 4 anti-trans bills, GOP likely to override

“I am not going to go back to those days of hiding in the closet,” Justin Brace, executive director of Transgender Kansas, said

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Kansas Democratic Governor Laura Kelly (File photo credit: Office of the Kansas Governor)

TOPEKA – This past Thursday, Kansas Democratic Governor Laura Kelly vetoed a sweeping set of anti-transgender bills, including a ban on gender-affirming health care for trans minors.

Kansas City ABC News affiliate KMBC-TV 9 reported the governor said in statement on the four vetoes that measures “stripping away rights” would hurt the state’s ability to attract businesses. The vetoes also were in keeping with her promises to block any measure she views as discriminating against LGBTQ+ people.

“Companies have made it clear that they are not interested in doing business with states that discriminate against workers and their families,” Kelly said. “I’m focused on the economy. Anyone care to join me?”

In addition to the ban gender-affirming health care, bills were passed by state lawmakers that would have prevented trans Kansans from using restrooms and other public facilities that meshed with their gender identities; another measure would place limits on the, restricting Kansas Department Of Corrections, restricting where trans offenders are housed in state prisons and county jails; then a measure placing restrictions on rooming arrangements for trans youth on overnight school trips.

The state legislature has Republican supermajorities in both chambers and conservative leadership has made it clear rolling back transgender rights is a priority. Votes to override the governor are expected as soon as this week.

The bills on bathrooms, jails and overnight school trips passed earlier this month with the two-thirds majorities needed to override a veto, KMBC-TV 9 reported, but the measure on gender-affirming care did not, falling 12 House votes short of a supermajority.

“I am not going to go back to those days of hiding in the closet,” Justin Brace, executive director of Transgender Kansas, said during a recent transgender rights rally outside the Statehouse. “We are in a fight for our lives, literally.”

Taking aim at the governor’s veto of the measure to ban on gender-affirming health care for trans minors, Kansas Senate President Ty Masterson said in a statement:

“By any reasonable standard, governing from the middle of the road should include ensuring vulnerable children do not become victims of woke culture run amok.”

The progressive Movement Advancement Project (MAP) think tank noted that as of Friday, April 21, 2023, 15 states have bans on at least some forms of medical care, and many more states are actively pursuing similar bans. As a result, nearly one in five (20%) transgender youth currently live in states where they are banned from receiving best-practice medical care, in addition to transgender adults living in Missouri.  
 
“These bills are part of a much broader, coordinated effort to prevent transgender people from being our authentic selves,” said Logan Casey, Senior Policy Researcher at MAP and an author of the report. “Across the country, anti-transgender extremists and politicians are putting the lives and well-being of transgender people at risk by attempting to outlaw access to best practice medical care not only for youth, but for all transgender people.” 

Prior to 2021, no states banned medical care for transgender youth. Treatments for children and teens have been available in the U.S. for more than a decade and are endorsed by major medical associations.

Medical experts along with LGBTQ advocacy and legal groups point out that the health care targeted by anti-transgender extremists is medically necessary care that is prescribed by experienced doctors who utilize best practices that are endorsed by all major medical groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association

The Kansas measure would have required the state’s medical board to revoke the license of any doctor discovered to have provided such care, and allowed people who received such care as children to sue health care providers later.

Republican state Rep. Susan Humphreys, of Wichita, said during a debate on the gender-affirming care bill: “They’re parents who are saying, ‘My child showed no signs of gender dysphoria until they got to be in middle school, and then they started using social media.’”

According to the Associated Press, Humphreys and her Republican counterparts across the United States argue many of their constituents reject the cultural shift toward accepting that people’s gender identities can differ from the sex assigned them a birth; don’t want cisgendered women sharing bathrooms and locker rooms with transgender women; and question gender-affirming care such as puberty-blocking drugs, hormone therapies and surgeries.

Editor’s Note: The new MAP report, LGBTQ Policy Spotlight: Bans on Medical Care for Transgender People, provides the most comprehensive look to date at the sweeping attempts to ban and restrict medical care for not only transgender youth—but also transgender adults.

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Kansas GOP lawmakers override veto, trans athletes now banned

“The ugly truth is that politicians set their sights on kids who take up few to no resources in the school system”

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Rep. Stephanie Byers said a bill banning transgender athletes from women’s sports was not about fairness but about whether or not you accept transgender women as women. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA – The Republican majority Kansas Legislature was able to override Democratic Governor Laura Kelly’s veto of a bill banning trans girls and women from girls and women’s sports at public schools and colleges.

The state Senate with a 28-12 vote Wednesday afternoon passed through Senate Bill 160 known as the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act. The House had previously voted 84-40. Both reached the two-thirds majority needed for an override. Last year an effort to ban transgender athletes from women’s sports failed after the House fell short on an attempt to override Gov. Kelly’s veto.

“The Fairness in Women’s Sports act protects the rights of female athletes in the state by requiring that female student athletic teams only include members who are biologically female,” Kansas House Speaker Dan Hawkins (R) said in a statement after overriding the veto. “House Republicans are united in our commitment to defending the intention of Title IX.”

In an interview with Kansas City NPR KCUR 89.3 FM, the governor said, “It breaks my heart. I’m sorry that they distracted themselves with this really awful bill.”

Wednesday’s override by Republicans caps a three-year battle to try to enact the ban. Kelly has vetoed similar legislation in the last two years. Kansas News Service reporters Dylan Lysen, Blaise Mesa, Samantha Horton reported that the newly enacted law will not lead to a widespread change in Kansas.

Jeremy Holaday, a spokesperson for the Kansas State High School Activities Association, said of the 106,000 students participating in the organization’s sports and activities, only three are transgender girls.

Two of those transgender girls are set to graduate this spring. That means only one of the students currently participating in Kansas high school activities will be impacted when the law goes into effect in July.

KSHSAA uses a policy that allows schools to consider each case of transgender youth participating in gender-specific activities on an individual basis. The student’s school ultimately makes the decision.

“We believe it has worked for our member schools,” Holaday said. “If the state legislature gives us new direction, then we will adjust accordingly.”

Democratic Rep. Jerry Stogsdill of Wichita warned the bill may lead to businesses and sporting events — like the NCAA’s national tournaments — shunning the state.

“We have put targets on the backs of some of our most vulnerable citizens,” Stogsdill said. “As a proud Kansan, I’m ashamed.”

The bill is one of several measures the Republican-dominated Kansas Legislature is pursuing that limits transgender rights.

Lawmakers also approved a bill known as the Women’s Bill of Rights that bars transgender women from bathrooms, shelters and other spaces designated for women. Kelly is expected to veto that bill, too.

In an editorial by the Kansas City Star’s Editorial Board on Thursday, the newspaper took lawmakers to task denouncing the veto override:

“When talking about the laws that govern our rights, we’re talking about power. Pure and simple. Kansas Republicans have decided out of thin and undetectable air that transgender young people need to be targeted. With their consolidated power in the Legislature, they’ve decided to stand on the necks of a tiny, especially vulnerable minority of children.”

Continuing on, the Star’s Editorial Board wrote:

“This was pressing even though the legislation will affect three high school student-athletes in the state, according according to the Kansas State High School Sports and Activities Association.

If there were only three students enrolled in a school, the board would shut that school down.

If there were only three students enrolled in a class, the school would shut that class down. No matter how you look at it, three people in a population of almost 3 million can’t possibly be worth the Legislature making it into the concern of the century.

Now, in all fairness, it’s not only Kansas that feels that need to put trans students in its crosshairs. Just so far in 2023, GOP lawmakers are putting anti-trans bills in play in almost every state in the nation.

What does it say about Kansas wanting to be on that leading edge of that trend? And what is it about trans students wanting to play ball that’s so horrifying and threatening?

The Star then noted:

“The ugly truth is that politicians set their sights on kids who take up few to no resources in the school system. Members of the Kansas GOP can pat themselves on the back and high-five one another other for battling a nonexistent crisis that should be dealt with by schools and athletic leagues, not the government. They can pick on and bully trans students — and make no mistake, that’s exactly what this is.”

 

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Federal judge issues mixed ruling in Kansas Trans case

Fort Riley Middle School, located on the sprawling home to the U.S. Army’s First Division, has policies to protect LGBTQ+ students

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Geary County Unified School District 475 (Screenshot/WIBW News 13)

TOPEKA – In a ruling last week, a U. S. District Court allowed the Geary County Unified School District 475, (GCUSD 475) to continue its policy of requiring teachers and staff to respect trans students pronouns and additionally not out them to their parents.

However, Judge Holly Teeter sided with the teacher that brought the lawsuit prohibiting the GCUSD 475 from disciplining her for her refusal to follow policies based on her religious beliefs.

Fort Riley Middle School, located on the Ft. Riley post, the sprawling home to the U.S. Army’s First Division, has a long standing set of policies to protect LGBTQ+ students.

A math teacher Pamela Ricard, sued Geary County Schools over LGBTQ anti-discrimination those policies claiming that those policies conflicted with her Christian beliefs. Ricard was represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal advocacy group listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group for its anti-LGBTQ+ lying and deceptive propaganda.

Teeter, was nominated by former President Donald Trump and on August 1, 2018, the U.S. Senate confirmed her as United States District Court Judge for the District of Kansas.

Topeka Capital-Journal journalist Jason Tidd reported , Teeter issued a preliminary injunction on Monday blocking the school from disciplining Ricard if she reveals preferred names and pronouns of her transgender students when communicating with their parents.

“The Court relies on Plaintiff’s statements that she does not intend to communicate with a parent for the sole purpose of disclosing a student’s preferred name and pronouns,” Teeter wrote.

Ricard has two transgender students in her class, the judge wrote, neither of whom have authorized the district to disclose their preferred names and pronouns to their parents. While Ricard uses their preferred names in class and avoids pronouns, she has emailed parents using a student’s legal name and biological pronouns, the Topeka Capital-Journal noted.

“Plaintiff believes that addressing students one way at school and a different way when speaking to their parents is dishonest,” the opinion states. “Being dishonest violates her sincere religious beliefs.”

According to the Topeka Capital-Journal, Teeter, ordered the injunction to remain in place until May 18 or until Ricard’s contractual responsibilities to the district end, whichever comes last. Court records state that Ricard is not returning to work next year at Fort Riley Middle School, after teaching in the district since 2005.

Will Rapp, a statewide organizer for the Kansas chapter of GLSEN, told the Capital-Journal:

“Any effort to force teachers to out students to their guardians is a violation of young people’s privacy and can place vulnerable young people in harm’s way,” Rapp said. “When transgender and nonbinary youth feel unsafe at school, they experience negative impacts not only to their health, but to their academic achievement and likelihood of graduating or moving to higher education opportunities.

“Attempts to forcibly out students also jeopardize educators’ ability to foster trust and create the kind of safe school environment that allows young people to grow and learn without fear of harassment or discrimination.”

 

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Kansas House fails to override Gov.’s veto of anti-Trans youth sports bill

The bill- subject of significant debate over two sessions, had 81 votes in favor, falling short of 84 required 2/3 majority vote to override

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Rep. Stephanie Byers said a bill banning transgender athletes from women’s sports was not about fairness but about whether or not you accept transgender women as women. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

By Noah Taborda | TOPEKA — An effort to ban transgender athletes from women’s sports failed Thursday after the House fell short on an attempt to override Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of the bill.

The bill, a subject of significant debate the past two sessions, garnered 81 votes in favor, falling short of the 84 required a two-thirds majority vote to overturn the veto. On Tuesday, the Senate voted 28-10 to override Kelly’s veto of Senate Bill 160.

The House can reconsider the vote Thursday or the next day the body meets.

Republicans argue the bill is the best way to ensure fairness. They said transgender athletes in women’s sports have an unfair advantage compared with those assigned the female gender at birth. Opponents of the measure, predominantly Democrats, say the bill is hateful and political. 

But as legislators returned for veto session, the debate about transgender identities shifted to new extremes. Rep. Stephanie Byers, a Wichita Democrat and the first transgender Kansas legislator, said the override vote was a decision between accepting and rejecting transgender Kansans’ identities.

“Wrestle with your consciences, decide how you want to vote with this. Decide how you want to commit to the fact that trans women are not really women, trans girls are not really girls, or you’re going to say that trans girls are girls, trans women are women,” Byers said. “This is not a lifestyle. This is my existence.”

Rep. Barbara Wasinger, a Hays Republican, said identifying as transgender is a mental health issue. 

“I feel greatly and deeply for these young people and all people that are confused,” Wasinger said during Republican caucus before the debate. 

Rep. Brandon Woodard, a Lenexa Democrat and one of four LGBTQ legislators, countered transgender children just want to be seen as human.

“If you disapprove of who I am or who a young trans person is, take that up with our creator,” he said.

At the high school level, there is just one transgender girl participating in any school activity in Kansas, according to LGBTQ advocates.

House Speaker Ron Ryckman said earlier this week he did not have the votes to overturn the measure this week, but he reversed course Thursday, attempting to override the veto. Eighty-five Republican House members were present, and 84 votes were needed for an override. 

During the first debate on the bill earlier this month, several legislators were absent or chose not to vote. The measure originally passed 74 to 39.

Earlier this week, an email sent by Rep Chery Helmer, a Mulvane Republican, to a transgender college graduate student sparked controversy over comments that she did not feel comfortable sharing a bathroom with Byers, who she described as a “huge transgender female.” Helmer also spread false claims that many school-age girls have been sexually assaulted in bathrooms by transgender people.

Opponents of the bill have pointed to this email as an example of the underlying fear and hatred of LGBTQ Kansans driving this bill. Legislation in Kansas matches bills pushed by conservative lobbying groups across the country.

Rep. Owen Donohoe, a Shawnee Republican, said it was the duty of government to uphold the “rules of nature,” which he said led him to consider things like same-sex marriage and transgender athletes to be inherently wrong.

Rep. Chuck Schmidt, a Wichita Democrat, said he did not understand what it was like to be transgender, and after listening to the debate, it was clear most legislators do not either. He said high rates of suicide and suicide ideation among transgender people and how this bill could exacerbate those were of greater concern to him than anything else.

“I speak as a coach for many years, and I know the value of activities, and I know how important it is to allow kids to be counted as a part of something bigger than themselves,” Schmidt said. 

“This is not just some boy deciding I can do better in girls’ sports. This is someone who decides this is who I am, and this decision doesn’t come easy.”

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Noah Taborda started his journalism career in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering local government and producing an episode of the podcast Show Me The State while earning his bachelor’s degree in radio broadcasting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Noah then made a short move to Kansas City, Missouri, to work at KCUR as an intern on the talk show Central Standard and then in the newsroom, reporting on daily news and feature stories.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Kansas Reflector and is republished by permission.

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Kansas Republican complains about sharing restroom with ‘Trans female’

In email to trans college student, Republican Rep. Cheryl Helmer says she entered men’s restroom to make point

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Rep. Cheryl Helmer, R-Mulvane, offers her comments on biology, bathroom usage and transgender athletes in response to an inquiry from a college student concerned about anti-transgender legislation. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

By Sherman Smith | TOPEKA — Rep. Cheryl Helmer told a transgender college student she doesn’t appreciate sharing a restroom at the Statehouse with a “huge transgender female” and falsely claims transgender people are assaulting “wee little girls” in school restrooms.

Helmer’s hate-filled remarks were made in an April 23 email from her legislator address to Brenan Riffel, a graduate student at the University of Kansas who identifies as transfeminine and provided a copy of the exchange to Kansas Reflector. Helmer, a Republican from Mulvane, didn’t respond to questions for this story.

Riffel contacted Helmer and three other House Republicans to express disappointment in their sponsorship of House Bill 2210, which would make it a crime for a doctor to perform gender reassignment surgery or hormone replacement on minors. The legislation, introduced Feb. 3, 2021, has not received a hearing.

Helmer, who worked as a guidance counselor for Wichita public schools, responded with her views on biology and another bill that would ban transgender girls and women from participating in sports. The Legislature is expected to attempt an override of the governor’s veto on the transgender athletes bill this week.

“No surgeon can cut, remove, wop, add to change the biology that is chemically occuring [sic] in each and every fiber, bone and molecule of every human being,” Helmer wrote in her email to Riffel. “A doctor can inject meds and dilute but cannot destroy what God has done in the perfection of the HUMAN BEING.

Helmer’s comments about sharing a restroom with a transgender colleague are an apparent reference to Rep. Stephanie Byers, a Wichita Democrat and the state’s first transgender legislator.

“Now, personally I do not appreciate the huge transgender female who is now in our restrooms in the Capitol,” Helmer wrote. “It is quite uncomforting. I have asked the men if they would like a woman in their restroom and they freaked out. Just to make my point — I went into their restroom one day. They were all standing in a circle talking but they all in unison started screaming like girls ‘Cheryl – you’re in the men’s restroom!’ It was quite apparent by their bright red faces that they were extremely embarrassed that I had entered ‘their territory’.

“But now we have a very unfair situation. We as women have humans that are much larger, stronger, more adrenaline and testosterone and therefore possibly more dangerous and we have to share our restrooms. Not only that but our wee little girls in elementary and middle and high school are having to be exposed and many have been raped, sodomized and beaten in the restrooms by these supposedly transgenders who may or may not be for real.”

There is no evidence to support Helmer’s claims of sexual assaults.

Riffel initiated contact with the legislators to let them know how harmful House Bill 2210 would be for transgender children in Kansas.

“With the rise in attacks of trans people and with the growing acceptance of violence towards the trans community, it’s important to advocate and fight back this legislation that aims to erase us and make us targets,” Riffel said in an email to Kansas Reflector.

“Unfortunately,” Riffel said, “I expected such a bigoted and close-minded response.”

Riffel said the representative’s willingness “to make a political point” by going into a men’s restroom was surprising. Riffel said they didn’t know “the trans individual” referenced in the email, “but I am sorry that you have to deal with Rep. Helmer’s antics and discrimination.”

“I am appalled that she is in office with such beliefs,” Riffel said. “My concerns about the well being of our trans kids was not addressed by Rep. Helmer and all I got back in return was blatant transphobia fueled by hateful religious rhetoric.”

Helmer’s comments “were perhaps some of the most hateful things I have ever been sent,” Riffel said.

Rep. Stephanie Byers, D-Wichita, says in an interview at her office at the Statehouse in Topeka that discriminatory legislation is “heartbreaking” for the transgender community.
(Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Byers said Helmer’s email is emblematic of disinformation and talking points provided by politically motivated national organizations.

Helmer took it to the “next level,” Byers said, with her comments about sharing a restroom.

“How embarrassing is it that this is the same argument that was said in the 1950s and 1960s about why you couldn’t have Black people in the same restroom — because they were predators,” Byers said. “And you know, that stigma carries on. We still see it.”

Byers said her response to Helmer would be: “Learn to live her life out of love instead of out of fear, and to put people first, above politics.”

Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, said Helmer’s comments point to the motivation behind the attempt to ban transgender athletes from school sports.

“It’s rare that they say the quiet part out loud, but it’s clear that the backers of this bill are driven by nothing but hatred,” Witt said.

Senate Bill 160 is model legislation backed by anti-LGBTQ organizations who say it is necessary to protect Kansas girls from the hypothetical threat of losing scholarships. The law has been struck down by federal courts as unconstitutional when enacted in other states.

Helmer concluded her email to Riffel by saying it is “totally, 1000% unfair that a man can ‘feel’ like a woman and change his sex” in order to “compete against women.”

“Offended? Disdain? That doesn’t even begin to speak for the women who are being cheated out by males now dominating the women’s sports world,” Helmer wrote. “I believe the only fair proposition is if transgender males compete in their own category and must fund it themselves.”

House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita, said Helmer’s “dehumanizing commentary” is evidence the ban on transgender athletes is not about empowering young girls.

“It is quite the opposite,” Sawyer said. “It is about a deep hate of others. It’s about endorsing state-sanctioned discrimination.”

Byers said .000047% of athletes in Kansas schools are transgender girls.

The legislation is about “bullying somebody who’s different,” Byers said.

“It’s heartbreaking for the community at large,” Byers said. “You get a 15-year-old kid who’s going to try to tell his classmates that he’s really a girl. And she’s all set, ready to do this. And she’s found a teacher who’s supportive, and she’s found a counselor who is supportive. And then an article runs about the state banning trans girls, or an article runs about other states like Alabama or Florida or wherever, considering or passing laws to ban affirmative health care. All that bravery begins to wane. Because the minute you say something, people are looking at you differently.”

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Sherman Smith is the Editor in chief of the Kansas Reflector and is the Kansas Press Association’s journalist of the year. He has written award-winning news stories about the instability of the Kansas foster care system, misconduct by government officials, sexual abuse, technology, education, and the Legislature. He previously spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. A lifelong Kansan, he graduated from Emporia State University in 2004.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Kansas Reflector and is republished by permission.

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