Kansas Republican complains about sharing Statehouse restroom with ‘transgender female’

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

By: - April 25, 2022 1:34 pm

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)

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
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith 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 as a Shepherd Scholar with a degree in English.

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