Taryn Jones, a lobbyist for LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Kansas, testifies on Feb. 15, 2023. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Kansans gathered at the Statehouse this week to celebrate equality while GOP legislators executed their latest attack on transgender people.
House Republicans who endorsed an attempt to legislate the meaning of “man” and “woman” describe their legislation as a science-based attempt to keep women safely isolated from their dominant counterparts. The ironically titled “women’s bill of rights” would establish no rights, instead banning individuals who are born without the ability to produce eggs for reproduction from using women’s restrooms, locker rooms or other gender-specific areas.
A House panel amended Senate Bill 180 to classify people with developmental differences, including those who are intersex, as disabled. They would be unwelcome in women’s spaces but entitled to their own facilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“I think it’s pretty despicable that they’re willing to classify an entire group of marginalized people as disabled just to discriminate against an entirely different marginalized group,” said Taryn Jones, a lobbyist with Equality Kansas.
Jones was among those gathered Tuesday at the Statehouse to protest anti-LGBTQ legislation. Hours later, the House debated and advanced the “women’s bill of rights,” which passed the next day on a mostly party-line 83-41 vote.
House Speaker Dan Hawkins, writing in his weekly newsletter, said activists want to “redefine common words” and conflate the distinction between gender identity and biology. In doing so, the Wichita Republican conflated the distinction between gender and sex.
“Biological differences between the sexes leave females more physically vulnerable than males to specific forms of violence, including sexual violence,” Hawkins wrote. “This legislation is essential in protecting the right to privacy, dignity, and safety for females in restrooms, domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers, prisons, locker rooms, and other areas where biology, safety, and/or privacy are involved.”
As the House debated the bill, Rep. Lindsay Vaughn, an Overland Park Democrat, said the bill “weaponizes the rhetoric of rights to erase protections for trans and nonbinary people.”
“It makes it easier for the state to discriminate against them,” Vaughn said. “Biology, endocrinology, physiology, genetics, neuroscience and reproductive science have all confirmed that sex and gender are not black and white, and that they exist on a spectrum. By ignoring this and attempting to legislate people into a box, we will be doing an irreparable harm to transgender and nonbinary Kansas who already experience horrifying discrimination and violence.”
The irony, she said, is the bill’s failure to “enumerate any actual rights.” If the House really cared about women’s rights, she said, lawmakers would pass bills that deal with equal pay, maternity leave, maternal mortality rates, and affordable child care.
“We would support a sales tax exemption for feminine hygiene products, and we wouldn’t be debating bills that require physicians to give blatant misinformation to patients about abortion, taking away SNAP benefits, or making it more difficult to access child care assistance,” Vaughn said.
Rep. Christian Haswood, a Lawrence Democrat, wondered if enforcement of the law would require genital inspections — even in the Statehouse.
“How is this going to be regulated?” Haswood said. “We might as well put Capitol security at every door of the restrooms, right”
Rep. Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican, said Democrats were “redefining what is a woman.”
“You’re saying that I have no more rights,” Landwehr said. “I cannot go into a woman’s bathroom and know that a male will not walk into that bathroom. What about my rights? What about my comfort zone?”
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