Anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in Kansas Legislature are political bullying tactic, activists say

Kansas lawmaker pushes bill criminalizing drag shows performed in front of kids

By: - February 2, 2023 10:02 am
Sen. Mike Thompson, R-Shawnee, appears at a Jan. 10, 2023, news conference where Republicans outlined their priorities

During a Tuesday Senate meeting, Sen. Mike Thompson floated the idea of criminalizing drag shows performed in front of children in legislation that could have wide-ranging implications. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — The Kansas GOP is testing the waters with new legislation meant to discredit the LGBTQ community, activists say, with bills seeking to criminalize gender-affirming care and drag show performances for children, and a revised ban on transgender athletes.

House Bill 2238, a new form of the “fairness in women’s sports act,” which has been debated in the Legislature for years now, was introduced Tuesday in a House Education Committee hearing. The bill would require female student athletic teams from kindergarten to college only include cisgender girls or women. One part of the bill stipulates that no governmental agency, athletic association or organization could take action against public education entities for keeping athletic teams or sports divided by gender.

Another section of the bill stipulates that students who have been harmed or deprived of athletic opportunities because their team or sport wasn’t limited to cisgender females had a legal claim to seek redress.

Equality Kansas released a statement calling the legislation a bullying tactic. One concern was how a child’s gender would be verified.

For Kansas high schools impacted by the bill, the Kansas High School Activities Association would decide rules and regulations for enforcing that teams were only made up of cisgender females. Equality Kansas said determining students’ gender could mean an “invasive and humiliating physical examination.”

“This is a convenient way to score political points by picking on marginalized children,” the statement said. “This along with the numerous anti-LGBTQ bills introduced every year and the refusal to repeal outdated and unconstitutional legislation proves that this was never about ‘fairness in women’s sports.’ The Kansas Legislature is using these bills as yet another cynical distraction from the work that Kansans want and need them to do, and they are doing so at the cost of some of the most marginalized children in our state.”

Lawmakers have introduced other legislation impacting the transgender community this session.

Senate Bill 12, introduced by Sen. Mike Thompson, a Shawnee Republican, and Sen. Mark Steffen, a Hutchinson Republican, would criminalize hormone replacement therapy and gender reassignment surgery for transgender youths.

Titled the “child mutilation prevention act,” the bill would make it illegal for physicians to prescribe hormone replacement therapy or perform gender-reassignment surgeries for anyone younger than 21, with few exceptions. Thompson said the legislation was about protecting Kansans who were too young to make informed decisions about transitioning.

American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas legal fellow D.C. Hiegert said the bills showed a concerted effort to alienate transgender Kansans.

“Kansas legislators who entertain these bills are sending the message that Kansas is not an accepting or welcoming place, and that trans people don’t belong here,” Hiegert said. “Not only do these anti-trans bills infringe on the civil rights and liberties of all Kansans, but they also harm the estimated 14,400 trans people that call Kansas home.”

On Tuesday, Thompson introduced a bill that would criminalize drag performances where children were in attendance.

The legislation didn’t appear on the Legislature’s website, drawing criticism for a lack of transparency.

“It is for relating to obscene performances expanding the crime of promoting obscenity to minors, including drag performances,” Thompson said in a one-sentence introduction of the legislation.

Under state law, “promoting obscenity” is a misdemeanor on the first offense, and a felony on subsequent offenses.

The Kansas City Star, which obtained a copy of the legislation, reported the bill defined drag as any performance in which the performer displays a gender identity different from the one they were assigned at birth, using clothes, makeup and accessories. 

Former Rep. Stephanie Byers, a Wichita Democrat and Kansas’ first transgender lawmaker, said the broad language of the bill could have put her in violation simply for existing.

“My sex assigned at birth was male, but that’s not who I am,” Byers said. “And so I do wear women’s clothing. I do wear makeup, so I’ve already met that first definition. I’m a musician. I sing and play, and for Music In Our Schools month I did so in the rotunda of the state capitol. If this bill had come through and had been signed into law, I would have been in violation.”

Byers said these bills and other recent legislation were introduced to discredit the LGBTQ community, putting it into people’s minds that LGBTQ people somehow pose a threat to children.

“A lot of this legislation is not really designed to become law,” Byers said. “What it’s designed to be is challenged in the courts. And by putting it into the court system, and being challenged that way, we begin to start the notoriety of it, using the legal system as a way of communicating these messages out to the general public. We’re seeing that used almost like a propaganda machine.” 

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Rachel Mipro
Rachel Mipro

A graduate of Louisiana State University, Rachel Mipro has covered state government in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. She and her fellow team of journalists were 2022 Goldsmith Prize Semi-Finalists for their work featuring the rise of the KKK in northern Louisiana, following racially-motivated shootings in 1960. With her move to the Midwest, Rachel is now turning her focus toward issues within Kansas public policies.

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