Kansas lawmakers want these bills to horrify you and your friends

February 2, 2023 3:33 am
Sen. Mike Thompson on the Senate floor.

Kansas Sen. Mike Thompson, R-Shawnee, chats on the Senate floor March 2, 2022. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

The cruelty is the point.

That’s the only impression left after watching state Sen. Mike Thompson’s latest foul attack on LGBTQ people.

His new bill would classify drag shows as promoting obscenity and bar children from viewing them. Depending on the bill’s wording (text was conspicuously difficult to find Wednesday), it might make showing “Mrs. Doubtfire” a criminal offense. Performances of the family musicals “Hairspray” or “Peter Pan,” which feature crossdressing lead actors, could likewise be banned.

That’s an absurd result. So what’s behind the bill? What’s behind Thompson’s accompanying legislation to criminalize gender-affirming care for transgender youths?

He and like-minded legislators want to create a climate of fear and uncertainty around LGBTQ Kansans. They want the community to feel unwelcome. Perhaps LGBTQ folks might just leave if Thompson and his ilk persecute them enough. If not, under these laws, police can simply throw gay people in jail.

The cruelty is the point.

You could hear such shortsighted, vindictive cases echoing throughout the Statehouse this week, bouncing off the walls like unpinned grenades.

Officials didn’t just introduce a flat tax proposal that would favor the wealthy at the expense of working-class Kansans. They also cast doubt on whether the state could afford to eliminate its sales tax on food, given the flat tax tab.

You could hear such shortsighted, vindictive cases echoing throughout the Statehouse this week, bouncing off the walls like unpinned grenades.

– Clay Wirestone

That’s right. These GOP leaders don’t even pretend to care about the poor. They outright state that we can afford a $1.5 billion-a-year revenue hit to pad the pockets of plutocrats but can’t scrape together the change for an accelerated food tax reduction.

As a (non-drag) queen supposedly said, let them eat cake.

The cruelty needn’t be obvious.

A Tuesday hearing of the House Elections Committee saw repeated airings of conspiracy theories. Bills proposed would slash access to drop boxes and require voters dropping off their ballots be observed by staff or recorded on video. The implied message? Voters have something to hide and should be surveilled.

Stacey Knoell, executive director of the Kansas African American Affairs Commission, testified at the hearing about those proposed limits and others.

“I think it is part of the government’s job to make voting as accessible and as equitable as we can for people who need to vote,” she told lawmakers. “I want to reiterate what another conferee said: If we take this bill in conjunction with other bills, we’re just making it more difficult to vote for various reasons. … I just oppose these upon the moral stance that we need to make it more easy for people to vote in this country.”

Who votes, of course, makes the difference. Drop boxes, early voting and expanded hours at polling places have traditionally been used by poorer people, younger people and those in communities of color. They may work nontraditional hours or find it difficult to vote on Election Day.

Conspiracy theories about stolen elections rely on racist tropes. These bills and this hearing send the same kind of message: Your kind isn’t welcome here.

The cruelty is the point.

The list runs painfully long. I could write about the House’s new “welfare reform” committee, which appears to be sharpening its knives to limit poor Kansans’ access to public support programs.

I could write about legislative leadership’s continued, steadfast opposition to expanding the state Medicaid program (at the precise time that thousands are being kicked off their health insurance).

I could write about efforts to kick environmentalists in the teeth by preventing local plastic bag bans. Statehouse leadership pays lip service to local control until the Kansas Chamber decides otherwise.

I could write about restrictive abortion legislation that would contradict both the state constitution and Kansans’ clearly expressed wishes.

In all these situations, one group makes the laws. They’re on the inside. Another groups feels the effects of the laws. They’re on the outside. The folks on the inside don’t have to worry about being on the outside, thanks to their status and overwhelming privilege. They like holding that privilege, and they enjoy extending it.

They don’t even have to pass hateful legislation. They just have to introduce it and persuade those on the outside to quiet down, quit or leave. They will have achieved the same goal.

The cruelty is the point.

Clay Wirestone is Kansas Reflector opinion editor. Through its opinion section, the Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.

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Clay Wirestone
Clay Wirestone

Clay Wirestone serves as Kansas Reflector's opinion editor. His columns have been published in the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle, along with newspapers and websites across the state and nation. He has written and edited 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, and cnn.com. Before joining the Reflector in summer 2021, Clay spent 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.