Kris Kobach made his name by punching down.
He rose to prominence by targeting undocumented immigrants, one of the least powerful groups of people in this country. Over the summer, increasingly abandoned by his party in the race for Pat Roberts’ U.S. Senate seat, Kobach threw punches at an even less-powerful group: transgender people.
In a bizarre, rambling video released in June, after the U.S. Supreme Court protected LGBTQ people from discrimination by employers, Kobach lamented “cases of biological men, deciding to call themselves women, and then dominating women’s sports.” He claimed ridiculously that “female records are being shattered everywhere by biological males.”
Kobach promised to introduce legislation denying Title IX funding to any institution that allows trans athletes to compete in women’s sports.
“People who won’t stand up for their own daughters,” he said, “aren’t going to stand up for your rights either.”
Among those of us rolling our eyes was Stephanie Byers, of Wichita, who in November is likely to become the first openly trans member of the Kansas Legislature should she win in the heavily Democratic 86th District where she’s running.
“I think the majority of people are like, why are they doing this?” Byers told The Kansas City Star. “Is this because they have such a weak campaign that they don’t have any actual issues?”
There are actual issues. But as the summer’s dragged on, Kobach hasn’t let up on this new national security threat of trans athletes.
Kobach talking about trans rights/trans athletes: "Look, I'm the father of five daughters… if one of them gets really good and can make the college team, I don't want her to get to that championship to have the title snatched away by a biological male."
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) July 27, 2020
Sadly, Kobach’s main rival, Rep. Roger Marshall, couldn’t resist taking his own swing at trans people while trying to undercut Bob Hamilton, another of their opponents who almost makes Kobach look like a gentleman.
Using a sometimes-misunderstood minority group for cannon fodder in political campaigns isn’t anything new, but that doesn’t make it any less gross.
“You get your base to have an emotional reaction — fear, anxiety, something like that — then provide them with a solution: ‘Vote for me.’ I imagine it’s been used for millennia,” notes Donald A. Saucier, a psychology professor at Kansas State University whose research focuses on how people’s perceptions of each other lead to prejudice and other social behaviors.
“There’s an in-group and an out-group, as social psychologists call it: ‘I will protect the people in my group from that group.’ It’s a highly persuasive tactic to inspire fear,” Saucier says.
Rhetoric like that of Kobach, Marshall and everyone else who has spent part of recent legislative sessions trying to stir up fear of trans people in bathrooms puts some of the state’s children in danger of losing something more significant than sports trophies.
“Transgender kids are much higher risk for killing themselves unless they have supportive parents,” says Amy Hammer, a therapist at Lawrence’s Bert Nash Mental Health Center.
Hammer has seen around 70 trans Kansans come through a support group she started at Bert Nash in 2017. Hammer and her colleagues see plenty of other trans patients in one-on-one sessions as well.
These are Kansans seeking therapy in an effort to not kill themselves.
Hammer points to research showing that trans people are less suicidal when their families are supportive. Which means the adults in Republican politics have an even greater opportunity to be pro-life than they claim to be.
“One of the most common themes that I see in my practice is fear — fear of being targeted, harassed, persecuted or killed for being marginalized,” says Lorin Kelly, a licensed marriage and family therapist practicing in Manhattan and working on her doctorate at K-State.
“It is in my professional opinion that there is a direct correlation with positive mental health and lack of discrimination,” Kelly said. “Thus, as a state that values human lives I feel that we must continue to do so by first respecting it.”
Kobach’s version of manhood has always been defined by taking swings at less-powerful people.
Marshall says he’s pro-life. He’s also been to medical school, so presumably he understands that gender is more complex than anatomy — even if he’d never admit that publicly. He could have at least refused to join Kobach in punching down. He could have been a better man.