TOPEKA — Rep. Stephanie Byers castigated four Republican representatives Wednesday for introducing legislation that would put physicians in prison for providing services to transgender children.
Byers, a Democrat from Wichita and the state’s first openly transgender legislator, said House Bill 2210 would have a tragic impact on a population that struggles with suicide.
“A young Stephanie Byers should not have to walk the walk that I did,” Byers said. “We can make a difference for these kids. And this basically holds back the clock and says, ‘Nope, we’re not doing that.'”
Rep. Brett Fairchild, R-St. John, Rep. Randy Garber, R-Sabetha, Rep. Cheryl Helmer, R-Mulvane, and Rep. Bill Rhiley, R-Wellington, cosponsored the legislation, which creates the level eight felony crime of “unlawful gender reassignment service” for individuals younger than 18.
Under their proposal, gender would be defined as “the biological state of being female or male based on the individual’s sex organs.” Physicians would be banned from prescribing puberty-blocking medication, doses of testosterone for girls or estrogen for boys, or performing a surgery that sterilizes, alters the appearance of genitalia, or removes a healthy body part.
“It’s the same little group of extremists that are pushing this stuff, year after year after year,” said Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas. “They can’t beat up on the grown-ups anymore, so now they’re going after little kids, and I for one am sick of it.”
Garber, Rhiley and Hellmer also sponsored legislation in 2019 that labeled same-sex marriage a “parody” and classified homosexuality as a religion whose worshipers are guided by a daily code.
Witt said a 2013 study showed 40% of transgender youths had attempted suicide. That number has decreased to 35% because new treatments have been introduced, he said.
“This would take that away,” he said. “If something like this were passed, I think we’re going to see dead kids.”
Byers said physicians don’t perform the surgical interventions specified in the bill on children under 18, but puberty blockers help children buy time.
“The kids still grow. They still develop in height and stature. They just don’t have all the secondary sex characteristics. And so then when they’re able to make that decision, they can go the way they want to go with it,” Byers said. “And honestly, you very rarely find a kid that thinks one way and kind of changes their mind later. I can’t say it doesn’t ever happen, but it’s a rare occurrence.”
The 58-year-old said she knew who she was before she was in kindergarten and would have welcomed a pill that would have prevented her from growing facial hair.
Rep. Brandon Woodard, D-Lenexa, and Rep. Susan Ruiz, D-Shawnee, joined Byers in denouncing the hate bill. Woodard and Ruiz became the first openly gay members of the Legislature after winning election in 2018. Byers was elected in 2020.
“Any time there’s an attack on a member of the LGBTQ community, it’s literally an attack on all of us,” Woodard said.
Ruiz said it was wrong for lawmakers to place children in their political crosshairs.
“There are so many things that we need done in this state, and what do these people do but look at ways to be able to attack children?” she said. “I’ve got all the cuss words for it. It just doesn’t make sense.”