Opinion

Derek Schmidt: Are you willing to trade the lives of Kansas trans kids for the governor’s office?

September 2, 2022 10:00 am
Republican gubernatorial candidate Derek Schmidt joined former University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gains in Overland Park to push for approval by the Kansas Legislature of a state law requiring public educational institutions to allow participation in sports programs based on the biological sex of the athlete at birth. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Republican gubernatorial candidate Derek Schmidt joined former University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gains in Overland Park to push for approval by the Kansas Legislature of a state law requiring public educational institutions to allow participation in sports programs based on the biological sex of the athlete at birth. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Derek Schmidt has taken a dangerous step in his campaign for governor.

The attorney general, lagging in the contest against incumbent Democrat Laura Kelly, has decided to target transgender children. Thursday morning, he appeared at a news conference calling for a meanspirited, discriminatory ban on trans kids participating in girls’ sports. He has decided, apparently, that the lives of his fellow Kansans — only different from him in their gender expression — are worth less than his pursuit of power.

As I mentioned the last time I wrote about Schmidt in this space, he’s a graduate of the University of Kansas School of Journalism. He mentions it on his website, so I presume he still values that degree.

But does Schmidt still value what he learned?

Journalists are taught about the vital importance of empathy from the beginning. What are other people going through? What are they experiencing? We’re supposed to listen. We’re supposed to translate their experiences into stories that our readers can understand.

One of my favorite expressions states it best: The duty of journalists “is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

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Journalists are also taught to research thoroughly. They contact experts and examine facts and figures. What does the data stay? We know that 40% of transgender youths attempt suicide, and that many more consider it. We know that gender-affirming care and simple equality save lives.

Another favorite expression covers the absolute necessity of due diligence: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

Schmidt has decided to throw away all that he learned in those formative years and afflict the afflicted even further. He simultaneously wallows in willed ignorance.

How can anyone trained as a journalist so lack the curiosity and care to consider what transgender Kansans are going through? For goodness’ sake, he could simply read the Kansas Reflector to find out. Surely he knows that vanishingly few trans students in Kansas even compete in sports. Surely he knows the statistics and the pain caused by his public pronouncements. Surely he knows that in taking this step, he adds to the torrent of abuse directed toward those who don’t conform to the gender of their birth.

His lieutenant governor candidate, Katie Sawyer, sounded a conciliatory note in the Wichita Eagle earlier this summer, writing that “Kansans can oppose discrimination — and Derek Schmidt and I do — while also standing against Washington telling us how to raise our kids.”

That was before the Kansas City Star reported about video showing Sawyer laughing at an implied homophobic threat. That was during a July campaign event in Marion where she offered a preview of Schmidt’s current strategy, attacking Kelly over her vetoes of the ban.

Using a young person’s correct name and pronouns means:

71% fewer symptoms of severe depression

34% decrease in suicidal ideation

65% decrease in suicide attempts

UT Austin study

“When she doesn’t stop the ability of transgender men from competing in sports with our girls, that’s a problem,” Sawyer said, according to the Star.

Notice how she used the terms “men” and “girls” to conjure up the old slander against LBGTQ people as child molesters. Notice how she doesn’t specify a single case of a transgender athlete in Kansas taking an opportunity from someone else.

Notice too how Schmidt turned to University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines on Thursday, rather than any Kansas athletes.

“It’s an issue that Republicans, Democrats, independent voters all talk with me about and overwhelmingly share the view that it’s just a common-sense matter,” the attorney general said, according to Kansas Reflector’s Tim Carpenter.

Do all those voters say that to Schmidt? Do they really? Or does a politician fanning culture war flames simply regurgitate what GOP consultants advise?

Schmidt has accomplished much and earned great power. Yet he has decided to use his position to single out some of the most vulnerable among us. He has, in a single news conference, shown the people of Kansas that he’s willing to sacrifice their children on the altar of political expediency.

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Clay Wirestone
Clay Wirestone

Clay Wirestone has written columns and edited reporting for newsrooms in Kansas, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania. He has also fact checked politicians, researched for Larry the Cable Guy, and appeared in PolitiFact, Mental Floss, cnn.com and a host of other publications. Most recently, Clay spent nearly four years at the nonprofit Kansas Action for Children as communications director. Beyond the written word, he has drawn cartoons, hosted podcasts, designed graphics, and moderated debates. Clay graduated from the University of Kansas and lives in Lawrence with his husband and son.

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