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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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Kansas

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly vetoes ban on gender-identity health care

Republicans vow to seek override of Democratic governor’s actions. Senate President Ty Masterson says reflects her radical left agenda

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Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed two abortion bills and a measure criminalizing transgender health care for minors. House and Senate Republican leaders responded with promises to seek veto overrides when the full Legislature returned to Topeka on April 26. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

By Tim Carpenter | TOPEKA, Kan. — Gov. Laura Kelly flexed a veto pen to reject bills Friday prohibiting gender-identity health care for transgender youth, introducing a vague crime of coercing someone to have an abortion and implementing a broader survey of women seeking abortion that was certain to trigger veto override attempts in the Republican-led House and Senate.

The decisions by the Democratic governor to use her authority to reject these health- and abortion-rights bills didn’t come as a surprise given her previous opposition to lawmakers intervening in personal decisions that she believed ought to remain the domain of families and physicians.

Kelly said Senate Bill 233, which would ban gender-affirming care for transgender minors in Kansas, was an unwarranted attack on a small number of Kansans under 18. She said the bill was based on a politically distorted belief the Legislature knew better than parents how to raise their children.

She said it was neither a conservative nor Kansas value to block medical professionals from performing surgery or prescribing puberty blockers for their patients. She said stripping doctors of their licenses for serving health interests of patients was wrong. Under the bill, offending physicians could be face lawsuits and their professional liability insurance couldn’t be relied on to defend themselves in court.

“To be clear, this legislation tramples parental rights,” Kelly said. “The last place that I would want to be as a politician is between a parent and a child who needed medical care of any kind. And, yet, that is exactly what this legislation does.”

Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, and House Speaker Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, responded to the governor by denouncing the vetoes and pledging to seek overrides when legislators returned to the Capitol on April 26. The transgender bill was passed 27-13 in the Senate and 82-39 in the House, suggesting both chambers were in striking distance of a two-thirds majority necessary to thwart the governor.

“The governor has made it clear yet again that the radical left controls her veto pen,” Masterson said. “This devotion to extremism will not stand, and we look forward to overriding her vetoes when we return in two weeks.”

Cathryn Oakley, senior director of the Human Rights Campaign, said the ban on crucial, medically necessary health care for transgender  youth was discriminatory, designed to spread dangerous misinformation and timed to rile up anti-LGBTQ+ activists.

“Every credible medical organization — representing over 1.3 million doctors in the United States — calls for age-appropriate, gender-affirming care for transgender and nonbinary people,” Oakley said. “This is why majorities of Americans oppose criminalizing or banning gender-affirming care.”

Abortion coercion

Kelly also vetoed House Bill 2436 that would create the felony crime of engaging in physical, financial or documentary coercion to compel a girl or woman to end a pregnancy despite an expressed desire to carry the fetus to term. It was approved 27-11 in the Senate and 82-37 in the House, again potentially on the cusp of achieving a veto override.

The legislation would establish sentences of one year in jail and $5,000 fine for those guilty of abortion coercion. The fine could be elevated to $10,000 if the adult applying the pressure was the fetuses’ father and the pregnant female was under 18. If the coercion was accompanied by crimes of stalking, domestic battery, kidnapping or about 20 other offenses the prison sentence could be elevated to 25 years behind bars.

Kelly said no one should be forced to undergo a medical procedure against their will. She said threatening violence against another individual was already a crime in Kansas.

“Additionally, I am concerned with the vague language in this bill and its potential to intrude upon private, often difficult, conversations between a person and their family, friends and health care providers,” the governor said. “This overly broad language risks criminalizing Kansans who are being confided in by their loved ones or simply sharing their expertise as a health care provider.”

Hawkins, the House Republican leader, said coercion was wrong regardless of the circumstances and Kelly’s veto of the bill was a step too far to the left.

“It’s a sad day for Kansas when the governor’s uncompromising support for abortion won’t even allow her to advocate for trafficking and abuse victims who are coerced into the procedure,” Hawkins said.

Emily Wales, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, said HB 2436 sought to equate abortion with crime, perpetuate false narratives and erode a fundamental constitutional right to bodily autonomy. The bill did nothing to protect Kansas from reproductive coercion, including forced pregnancy or tampering with birth control.

“Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes trusts patients and stands firmly against any legislation that seeks to undermine reproductive rights or limit access to essential health care services,” Wales said.

Danielle Underwood, spokeswoman for Kansas for Life, said “Coercion Kelly” demonstrated with this veto a lack of compassion for women pushed into an abortion.

The abortion survey

The House and Senate approved a bill requiring more than a dozen questions be added to surveys of women attempting to terminate a pregnancy in Kansas. Colorful debate in the House included consideration of public health benefits of requiring interviews of men about reasons they sought a vasectomy birth control procedure or why individuals turned to health professionals for treatment of erectile dysfunction.

House Bill 2749 adopted 81-39 in the House and 27-13 in the Senate would require the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to produce twice-a-year reports on responses to the expanded abortion survey. The state of Kansas cannot require women to answer questions on the survey.

Kelly said in her veto message the bill was “invasive and unnecessary” and legislators should have taken into account rejection in August 2022 of a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution that would have set the stage for legislation further limiting or ending access to abortion.

“There is no valid medical reason to force a woman to disclose to the Legislature if they have been a victim of abuse, rape or incest prior to obtaining an abortion,” Kelly said. “There is also no valid reason to force a woman to disclose to the Legislature why she is seeking an abortion. I refuse to sign legislation that goes against the will of the majority of Kansans who spoke loudly on August 2, 2022. Kansans don’t want politicians involved in their private medical decisions.”

Wales, of Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, said the bill would have compelled health care providers to “interrogate patients seeking abortion care” and to engage in violations of patient privacy while inflicting undue emotional distress.

Hawkins, the Republican House speaker, said the record numbers of Kansas abortions — the increase has been driven by bans or restrictions imposed in other states — was sufficient to warrant scrutiny of KDHE reporting on abortion. He also said the governor had no business suppressing reporting on abortion and criticized her for tapping into “irrational fears of offending the for-profit pro-abortion lobby.”

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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.

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

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The 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. We are part of States Newsroom: the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization, with reporting from every capital.

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Kansas internet porn bill passes, could lead to LGBTQ censorship

The measure passed 92-31, mainly along party lines, and now goes to the governor’s desk for final consideration

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Critics of a bill geared toward preventing minors from accessing internet pornography say the legislation could lead to First Amendment violations. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

By Rachel Mipro | TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas’s Republican-dominated House has given final approval to a wide-ranging bill meant to stop minors from accessing porn, but a bipartisan group of critics warn it could censor works of art, classic books and LGBT content, as well as provide sensitive identification information to unregulated third parties. 

The measure passed 92-31, mainly along party lines, and now goes to the governor’s desk for final consideration. During a discussion of votes, Rep. Kenneth Collins, a Mulberry Republican who splintered from his party to vote against the measure, said he worried about the broader implications of the legislation. 

“I have a concern that while the bill does prohibit material that is harmful to minors, it leaves subjectivity as to what this bill bans,” Collins said. “I also have concerns that the information used to verify a person’s age could fall into the hands of entities who could use it for fraudulent purposes.”

Senate Bill 394 would require age verification for websites that contain 25% or more content that is “harmful to minors,” as defined by state statute. 

State statute delineates content that is harmful to minors as the description, exhibition, presentation, or representation of nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement or sadomasochistic abuse.  State statute also includes homosexuality  in its definition of “sexual conduct.” Several Democrats said this provision could lead to a ban on LGBTQ online materials for those under 18. 

Critics say the bill could also restrict: Blogs listing the most gay-friendly cities, a website dedicated to providing seminal books such as the “The Catcher in the Rye” by J. D. Salinger, or art sites with pictures of nude sculptures such as Michelangelo’s statue of the biblical hero David.

Senate lawmakers voted 40-0 to approve the bill in early February.  

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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.

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

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The 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. We are part of States Newsroom: the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization, with reporting from every capital.

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Trans Kansans appeal court block on changes to gender markers

Shawnee County District Court Judge Teresa Watson issued a block on gender marker changes for driver’s licenses

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Kansas Attorney General 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 Rachel Mipro | TOPEKA, Kan. — Transgender Kansans are challenging a district court’s ban on changing driver’s license gender markers as the courts try to determine the full scope of a divisive and vague law governing the state’s transgender residents.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, which represents the five transgender Kansans in the case, announced the appeal Thursday. D.C. Hiegert, LGBTQ+ legal fellow for the ACLU of Kansas, said the court’s ruling was based on an “overbroad interpretation” of the law.

“The court has decided that the state’s administrative interest outweighs the threat of harassment, discrimination and violence to individual Kansans,” Hiegert said. “This is clearly dangerous, and it wholly contradicts the tragic reality of current trends.”

Shawnee County District Judge Teresa Watson last week issued a block on gender marker changes for driver’s licenses, siding with Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach’s interpretation of Senate Bill 180. Under the law, genders are defined by reproductive organs, and state agencies that collect vital statistics are directed to identify individuals “as either male or female at birth.” Kobach argued this provision proves the need for driver’s licenses to show sex assigned at birth.

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Kobach called the decision a “victory for the rule of law and common sense.” He filed the lawsuit against the Kansas Department of Revenue’s Division of Vehicles in July.

After he filed, the district court issued a temporary restraining order blocking Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration from making gender marker changes on identity cards and driver’s licenses. The court granted the ACLU of Kansas permission to intervene in the lawsuit on behalf of five transgender Kansans who would be harmed by the gender marker ban, and arguments were held in January.

“The Kansas Constitution’s Bill of Rights guarantees all Kansans, including those who are transgender, rights of personal autonomy, privacy and equality,” Hiegert said. “The court has mistakenly adopted the attorney general’s overbroad interpretation of SB 180, which provides no language whatsoever requiring the state to force Kansans to carry inaccurate identification cards, against their fundamental rights.”

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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.

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

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The 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. We are part of States Newsroom: the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization, with reporting from every capital.

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Kansas GOP advances ban on gender-affirming trans youth care

‘Hungry for control’ State employees would no longer be able to so much as call transgender children by their chosen pronouns under the bill

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Activist Jae Moyer holds up a sign protesting new legislation that would restrict access to gender-affirming care in the state. (Photo Credit: Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

By Rachel Mipro | TOPEKA, Kan. – State employees would no longer be able to so much as call transgender children by their chosen pronouns under a bill blocking transgender minors in the state from receiving gender-affirming care. The legislation is barreling toward the governor’s desk. 

Passed by the House with a 80-40 vote, Senate Bill 233 bans health care professionals from using surgery or puberty blockers to treat transgender children. Despite Republican lawmakers’ claims that puberty blockers and hormone therapy are unsafe, the same therapy will be allowed for cisgender children with developmental disorders or other health conditions.

The bill now heads to the Senate. 

Similar legislation was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly last session, and a veto override attempt failed during the last legislative session. House lawmakers will need 84 votes to override a potential Kelly veto. With four Republican lawmakers absent during the Wednesday vote, the Republican House supermajority may have enough votes to do so. 

Under the legislation, providers who offer gender-affirming care to minors could have their licenses yanked. Another provision allows for lawsuits against providers who offer gender-affirming care up to 10 years after their patients turn 18. The bill bans the use of state funds and resources for medical or social transitioning. It would also ban state employees from helping minors to “social transition,” such as using a trans child’s preferred pronouns.

In a joint statement celebrating the bill’s passage, Republican House Speaker Dan Hawkins, House Majority Leader Chris Croft and Speaker Pro Tempore Blake Carpenter compared the ban to age limitations on alcohol consumption. 

“One of our jobs as legislators is to ensure the right protections are in place for the well-being of Kansas kids,” the statement read. “There are numerous examples of this including age restrictions for the purchase of alcohol or cigarettes, gambling, and other practices that can lead to sustained, negative outcomes for vulnerable youth. Kids’ brains aren’t fully developed to the point they can make these life-altering decisions.” 

These restrictions go against commonly accepted medical practices. Gender-affirming care for youths is supported by health care organizations including American Medical Association and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 

Multiple studies show gender-affirming care for transgender minors help alleviate distress and depression for a community that faces heightened risk of suicide and social isolation. Transgender Kansans and parents of trans Kansans themselves urged lawmakers to reconsider the bill multiple times over several bill hearings. 

“Anyone who voted yes on SB 233 is going to hell. like straight up. I want to practice therapy in this state but with laws like this, who knows if I’ll be able to?” tweeted Adam Kellogg following the bill’s passage. Kellogg is a transgender man and activist that has made multiple appearances at the Statehouse to campaign against harmful legislation. 

The move inches Kansas closer to joining the 22 states that have similar bans, including Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas and Nebraska, part of a wave of anti-trans legislation pushed by Republican-dominated legislatures throughout the U.S. and in conservative governments abroad. 

House Minority Leader Vic Miller of Topeka condemned the legislation.  

“Not only does the Republican Party think they have the right to tell parents how to best raise their children, but they’re criminalizing health care workers  during a time when we struggle to find enough doctors in the state for basic care,” Miller said. “They just can’t help themselves, as proven by the annual iterations of bills like this. Let parents parent and let health care workers provide care.”

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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.

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

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The 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. We are part of States Newsroom: the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization, with reporting from every capital.

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Trans kids treatment again up for discussion at Kansas Statehouse

Gender-affirming care for youths is supported by health care organizations including American Medical Association

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Kansas lawmakers have introduced several bills restricting gender-affirming care for Kansas minors. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

By Rachel Mipro | TOPEKA, Kan. – The state’s LGBTQ+ community was rocked in 2023 when lawmakers pushed through a wide-ranging anti-trans law that has led to a ban on gender marker changes on drivers’ licenses. Now Republican lawmakers and the state’s top law enforcement officer are reviving their campaign against transgender youth.

Kansas made news last year when it became the 20th state to pass a transgender student athlete ban into law in April, after lawmakers overrode Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto. The GOP-dominated Legislature also adopted Senate Bill 180 last year through veto override.

That legislation, which continues to be the subject of litigation, has led to a temporary restraining order blocking Kelly’s administration from making gender marker changes on identity cards and driver’s licenses.
Lawmakers are now returning to legislation that failed last session, such as gender-affirming care restrictions.

Rep. Ron Bryce, a Coffeyville Republican, requested the introduction of House Bill 2791, which would ban any organization that receives state funds from recommending gender-affirming care for transgender Kansans under the age of 18. The state’s medical assistance program would be blocked from providing coverage for gender-affirming care for these minors, among other provisions.

Gender-affirming care for youths is supported by health care organizations including American Medical Association and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, which say banning gender-affirming care for transgender minors is damaging and not rooted in science.

Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, requested the introduction of House Bill 2792, which would ban gender reassignment for those under the age of 18. The bill does not have a scheduled hearing yet.

Bryce also introduced House Bill 2793, which was heard Thursday in a House health committee. The bill prohibits health care services for minors without parental consent. In Kansas, parental consent requirements already exist for medical and behavioral health care, but there are exceptions for emergency or crisis situations, such as physical abuse, emergency mental health crises or sexual abuse.

“I feel it’s important for us to make sure that we don’t go down the path of debasing parental rights when it comes to directing the care of our children,” Bryce said. “This bill provides assurance that consent of a parent or guardian is required for treatment of children in the vast majority of situations.”

Several medical health professionals spoke against the bill, calling it overbroad. Some said the bill could block anything from helping stop a child’s nosebleed to preventing teens struggling with drug addiction or coping with pregnancy from seeking care.

“Adolescents facing sensitive issues like substance use, sexually transmitted disease, or reproductive health may avoid seeking care if parental consent is required,” said Dena Hubbard, on behalf of the Kansas Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Fear of judgment or repercussions may act as formidable barriers, resulting in avoidance or delay in seeking necessary medical attention.”

Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach has also promoted this take on parental rights, telling public school districts that they have to out transgender students to their parents despite no legal obligation to do so.

Kobach sent letters to six Kansas school districts in December, telling them not to “socially transition” students without parents’ knowledge. He issued a public statement on the matter in early February, after four districts refused to rewrite policies on the matter.

“A child changing his or her gender identity has major long-term medical and psychological ramifications,” Kobach said. “Parents should know, and have an opportunity to be involved in, such an important aspect of their well-being.”

Micah Kubic, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, condemned the move as unlawful and cruel.

“Quite aside from its brazen disregard for the law or the Constitution, the type of forced outing Attorney General Kobach seeks to impose on school districts and students is cruel, dangerous, and a repudiation of our shared values,” Kubic said. “Kansas students should all be able to live freely and in peace as their authentic selves without the intrusion of a state Attorney General inventing reasons to refashion the law into an instrument of his own extremist views.”

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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.

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

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The 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. We are part of States Newsroom: the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization, with reporting from every capital.

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Kansas’ attorney general instructs schools to out trans students

The AG sent letters warning schools allowing students to socially transition or identifying as non-binary at school violated parent’s rights

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Kansas Attorney General Republican Kris Kobach (Photo Credit: Office of the Attorney General)

TOPEKA, Kan. – Kansas Republican Attorney General Kris Kobach announced Thursday that his office is challenging several Kansas school districts whose policies allow school district faculty and staff to conceal from parents a student’s “transgender” or “gender non-conforming” status.

On December 7, 2023, the attorney general sent letters warning schools allowing students to socially transition or identifying as non-binary at school violated parent’s rights.  “A child changing his or her gender identity has major long-term medical and psychological ramifications,” Kobach said. “Parents should know, and have an opportunity to be involved in, such an important aspect of their well-being.”

“A lot of times these policies are pushed by outside activist organizations and adopted by school boards without being fully informed about what the policy would actually do,” said Deputy Attorney General Abhishek Kambli.

Because Kansas does not have specific statues or regulations governing policies regarding transgender students, some legal experts maintain that there’s no direct action Kobach could take and noted that even in his letter to the schools targeted, he doesn’t mention what actions he would take if those districts didn’t change their policies and specifically require teachers and administrators to out transgender and non-binary students.

Jordan Smith, who is a non-binary activist in the metropolitan Kansas City region, and also the Kansas chapter president of the Boulder, Colorado-based Parasol Patrol, an LGBTQ+ group that uses colorful umbrellas to shield children and young people from anti-LGBTQ+ protesters at events, spoke with the Blade on Friday. In an emailed statement, Smith said:

“As the Kansas Chapter Coordinator for Parasol Patrol, I feel strongly against the actions that Attorney General Kobach has taken to come after our school districts in Kansas that already have policies in place that are protective of our most vulnerable demographic, the Transgender and Non-binary youth.

These schools recognize that not all students have a safe space at home to be their “true, authentic selves.” The actions that Kobach is pressing onto schools will have a catastrophic impact on those students if they are forced to comply.

These students already have a statistically higher rate of anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges, and this will only serve to make these issues worse for those students. According to the Trevor Project, LGBTQ youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide. More than half of them are Transgender or gender non-conforming. There is no “might” be an issue, it “will” be an issue for those students. 

It’s mind numbing that we have these adults forcing their views in the name of “parents rights” and “protecting the children” when all it does is hurt the children that are impacted. 

It is time for the people of Kansas to tell Mr Kobach to leave the kids alone.” 

Kansas City NBC News affiliate KSHB reported that one of the school districts that received the attorney general’s letter and then his Thursday announcement, the Olathe School District, pushed back telling KSHB in an emailed statement the district developed “internal administrative guidelines” for staff and administrators to use on a case-by-case basis, but no formal policy has ever existed or been approved by the Board of Education.

“As a district, it is always our intent and practice to work directly and partner with individual families and students as situations arise to ensure we are providing the appropriate and necessary support,” the district’s statement reads. “We trust our staff to put the best interests of families and students at the heart of every decision.”

Smith agreed and pointed out: “Let the educators decide policies for the students in their own way because they know these kids and are better able to establish their individual needs. As opposed to a politician pushing their own self aggrandizing agenda and does not have students’ best needs at heart.”

Kobach also sent a letter to the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) alleging that “based on evidence” that KASB may have been involved in promoting policies that push parents out of the way on this issue.

KASB has declined to either confirm or deny that it had been involved in drafting such policies.

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Kansas library gets new lease by removing LGBTQ books for kids

‘I’m not real proud’: Advisory committee searched for LGBTQ words to identify and force removal of a dozen books

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Judith Cremer, director of the St. Marys public library, says she has worked with commissioners to keep the library's lease because the city's residents need access to the library. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

By Rachel Mipro | ST. MARYS, Ks. — The public library in St. Marys has managed to hang onto its lease for one more year by removing all of the youth-oriented LGBTQ books from library shelves.

Library director Judith Cremer said the decision was the result of her efforts to work with the city commission, which has been threatening the library’s lease for more than a year. 

Cremer said the adult section of the St. Marys location still contains some LGBTQ books, but in the junior collection, there are “probably not” any books left that contain LGBTQ content.

“I’m not real proud of that. … I feel bad because I think that there should be a variety of things for everybody, but like I say, we do have eight locations and I can get anything for anybody within about a day,” Cremer said. “So that’s a compromise I have to make.”

“I’m just trying to be realistic in the fact that we do have a precarious position here,” she added.

The St. Marys library is the headquarters for branches in more rural communities within Pottawatomie and Wabaunsee counties.

Cremer described the titles that were removed as “pretty mild” and “nothing that isn’t normal in mainstream society.”

A six-person library advisory committee is in charge of evaluating books. One of the committee members searched “gay,” “transgender,” “lesbian,” “bisexual” and “queer” in the library’s catalog to find books the committee wanted to review. They then read the books before determining which ones needed to be physically removed from the library premises.

They removed about a dozen books, including “Squad,” “Blood Countess,” “The Great American Whatever,” “Beyond Clueless,” “Red Rolls of Magic,” “Infinity Son” and “Icebreaker.”

“Most of these titles, the topic really isn’t LGBTQ or anything like that,” Cremer said. “It’s just describing a reality that is normal now for most people.”

Cremer has been working with the library advisory committee over the past few months in an attempt to appease city commissioners who threatened to pull the library’s lease because of religious-based objections to LGBTQ books. While the commissioners have no governing influence over the library, the Pottawatomie Wabaunsee Regional Library would be forced to find a new location if the lease weren’t renewed, giving up a community spot it has held for decades and depriving St. Marys residents of easily accessible library material.

The regional library has locations in Alma, Alta Vista, Eskridge, Harveyville, Olsburg, Onaga, St. Marys and Westmoreland, with county residents funding the library through taxes. Books removed from St. Marys were sent to these other locations.

The St. Marys location has struggled to work with members of the Society of St. Pius X, an extreme religious sect that has become a major influence in the small city of St. Marys. An estimated half of the library committee members have ties to SSPX.

All five of St. Marys’ city commissioners are tied to SSPX and have said their religion shapes their views, which includes an ongoing campaign against LGBTQ content. Some have characterized the library campaign as an SSPX attempt to dominate the last public space in St. Marys not already under its control.

A view of books inside the Pottawatomie Wabaunsee Regional Library in St. Marys
 St. Marys city commissioners have said they want LGBTQ “garbage” removed from the Pottawatomie Wabaunsee Regional Library. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

Commission member Matthew Childs, who currently serves as the mayor, authored a lease renewal clause last year that demanded the library remove all LGBTQ and socially divisive books from the shelves. Facing intense public pressure, the commission in December dropped the clause and renewed the lease for one year.

But as public pressure faded, the commissioners renewed their fight against the library in the spring, arguing that LGBTQ content, such as transgender “garbage,” needed to go.

“My goal is to terminate the lease with the library,” Commissioner Gerard Kleinsmith said during an April commission meeting. “If they want to have their library, so be it. Go do it. Find another building to do it in. … I will not ever vote for any taxpayer money, facilities, anything to be used anywhere that houses this kind of garbage.”

 Kleinsmith is meant to serve as the liaison between the city commission and library advisory committee.

During a Nov. 7 meeting, commissioners agreed to renew the library’s lease for another year.

Matthew Childs, new mayor of St. Marys, said some limits should be set on city debates. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)
Matthew Childs,  mayor of St. Marys, says the library has shown its ability to work with the community. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

“They’ve been doing some good work,” Kleinsmith said. “They’ve gotten 12 books that have been removed from the St. Marys library. … They’re going in the right direction.”

Childs said the library’s actions showed they were able to work as a community.

“That was the question in the first place really, ‘Why don’t we work as a community?’ And it looks like we’re doing that. So that’s a win,” Childs said. 

It’s uncertain how many more books could be removed from the library in the future. When asked if there was a line she would hold if the committee continues to ask for more removals, Cremer said it would depend on the decision-making process.

Her priority is hanging onto the St. Marys location, she said, because she feels city residents need the library.

“We need to protect all of our areas of information, so that when people need that information to make decisions about their life, we have that information available,” Cremer said. “I know that and that’s what I’m striving for. But I do have to compromise to keep the doors open.”

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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.

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

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Mayor tried to ban LGBTQ+ books, loses school board race

“We don’t want transgender books in the library. […] We don’t want the library to be promoting certain types of material”

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Matthew Childs, who campaigned on a conservative stance, lost his bid for a school board seat. (Photo Credit: Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

By Rachel Mipro | TOPEKA  — St. Marys Mayor Matthew Childs, who previously attempted to ban LGBTQ books from the city’s public library, lost on his school board bid. 

Tuesday’s election saw several candidates from the religion-dominated area attempt to win school board seats on the USD 321 Kaw Valley School Board. 

The district, which oversees Rossville and St. Marys public schools, spreads across several counties. Election officials in Shawnee, Pottawatomie and Jackson counties worked together to calculate the final results for the board’s open seats, leading to some initial confusion over the final results. 

Elias Espinoza and Jodi Porter were elected to the board. Porter, up against Childs, won the position with 53% of the vote to Childs’ 47%, garnering 1,425 votes to Childs’ 1,281 votes. Childs did not immediately respond to Reflector inquiries.

All of the November election results are unofficial until a final canvass on Nov. 14.

“We are in a culture war which is increasingly threatening the welfare of children especially,” Childs said in a September candidate profile by the Times of Pottawatomie County. “I am unapologetically on the ‘conservative’ or traditional side of this war. Along with many like-minded parents, I am morally obligated to defend our children from physical and moral harm insofar as I can.”

Childs is part of the St. Marys’ governing body, a five-person city commission, and a heavily religious group that attends the Society of St. Pius X, or SSPX. SSPX is a strict religious sect that broke away from the Catholic church. Commissioners have previously said their views  and governing decisions are influenced by their religious affiliation.

Childs is perhaps best known for formulating a “morals clause” for the city’s public library lease. The clause asked that the library not carry, encourage or accept any sexual, racial or “socially divisive” material that supported critical race theory or LGBTQ people. 

Though the library was allowed to continue operating in their location following massive public outcry, Childs has continued to speak against LGBTQ material in the library.  

“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 in a July commission meeting

Porter campaigned on teacher recruitment and keeping cell phones out of the classroom setting. 

“I want all those looking for teaching positions to have a desire to come here,” Porter said in her candidate profile. 

Preliminary results show Espinoza won against his opponent school board member Adrienne Olejnik, with 1,258 to 1,153 votes respectively. Reflector attempts to contact Espinoza were unsuccessful, but Espinoza is thought to have SSPX connections. A flyer for the St. Marys Academy and College lists him as a point of contact. Olejnik declined to comment publicly on the race. 

Espinoza and Childs were endorsed by the Kansans for Life PAC, which sent out mailers in favor of the two ahead of the election. The mailers alleged Olejnik had donated to “leftist causes” and that Olejnik would not “take a stand against drag queen story hours.” 

Incumbent candidates Michelle Martin and Kimberly Gillum returned to their board seats unopposed.  

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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 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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