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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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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 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 Governor Laura Kelly vetoes anti-LGBTQ+ bills

“This bill didn’t come from the experts at our schools, our athletes- It came from politicians trying to score political points”

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Kansas Governor Laura Kelly press conference April 15 (Screenshot/Kansas City Star- video)

TOPEKA – Democratic Kansas Governor Laura Kelly vetoed four bills sent to her desk by the Republican-majority held legislature Friday, including two anti-LGBTQ+ measures, the Parents’ Bill of Rights and the Fairness in Women’s Sports Acts.

The governor, who is seeking reelection in November, referring to the anti-Trans youth sports measure, Senate Bill 160, noted in her veto message; “[…] this bill didn’t come from the experts at our schools, our athletes, or the Kansas State High School Activities Association. It came from politicians trying to score political points.”

Kansas State Senate President Ty Masterson told reporters that the legislature was prepared to override Kelly’s vetoes when it returns on April 25. Override of a governor’s veto requires support from two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate.

The other anti-LGBTQ+ measure Kelly vetoed, Senate Bill 58, would allow parents the ability to challenge curriculum, books, or other related educational matters that they find offensive or object to based on “[…] the parent’s firmly held beliefs, values, or principles.” Critics including Democratic leadership characterized the measure than little more in book banning and a variant of Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law signed last month by Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis.

In a statement, Sherri Schwanz, president of the Kansas-National Education Association, said the governor’s veto of the parents’ bill of rights prevented creation of an artificial barrier to communication between teachers and parents “for the purpose of opening schools to attacks by partisan operatives.”

“It protects our students from the attempt to make our classrooms ground zero in a culture war that seeks only to advance a partisan agenda,” Schwanz said. “We applaud Governor Kelly for using her veto pen.”

The Republican Senate Leader however, took aim at the governor calling her vetoes as little more than pandering to her progressive base.

“In recent months, the governor has been a chameleon, demonstrating election-year conversions in an attempt to fool Kansans into believing she shares their values,” Masterson said. “Rather than listening to parents and female athletes, her decision to veto the Parents’ Bill of Rights and the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act demonstrate she is still largely controlled by the hard left,” Masterson said.

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