Kansas City Democrat risks exile from party after vote on transgender athletes

By: - April 10, 2023 3:32 pm
A participant in the March 31, 2023, March for Queer and Trans Youth Autonomy at the Kansas Statehouse holds a sign that reads: "Make no mistake, they are killing us."

A participant in the March 31, 2023, March for Queer and Trans Youth Autonomy at the Kansas Statehouse holds a sign that reads: “Make no mistake, they are killing us.” The demonstration was a response to legislative attacks on the LGBTQ community, including the ban on transgender athletes. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — A day after casting a decisive vote to override Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of a transgender athlete ban, Rep. Marvin Robinson appeared on a conservative radio talk show to defend his vote.

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Robinson, a Kansas City Democrat, said a colleague had told him transgender teens would kill themselves if the legislation were to become law. The unnamed legislator asked Robinson if he would feel blame and guilt for their deaths.

“I had to gasp. I was like, God, how cruel of a question,” Robinson told host Pete Mundo on Thursday on KCMO-FM.

The Legislature on Wednesday voted to override the governor’s veto with the minimum number of votes needed in the House. Robinson broke from party ranks to join 83 Republicans in their support for the bill, which bans transgender and cisgender girls from playing together from the time they enter kindergarten. The Democratic governor had vetoed similar bills in each of the past two years.

Robinson’s vote sparked outrage among Democrats who felt betrayed. State party officials issued a statement calling for Robinson to resign.

“If Rep. Robinson is going to allow hate to overrule his commitment to Democratic values, he needs to step aside and let a real Democrat represent his district,” said Brandie Armstrong, chair of the Kansas Democratic Party’s LGBTQ+ Caucus. “Democrats barely have representation in Kansas as it is. The least someone who claims to be part of our party can do is represent our ideals.”

Robinson is a first-term representative from a district where 80% or more of the vote routinely favors Democrats. Earlier in the session, Robinson voted against the transgender athlete bill. But in recent weeks, Robinson increasingly voted with Republicans on a wide range of issues, including anti-abortion bills, vouchers for private schools, and a “women’s bill of rights” that establishes no rights and blocks transgender people from public spaces.

Melinda Lavon, chair of the KDP’s Progressive Caucus, said the rare “safe blue districts” in Kansas present Democrats with an opportunity to “push the boundary.” Lavon said Robinson’s vote to override the governor’s veto “is an affront to basic empathy.”

“The Democratic Party in Kansas is a big tent, with diversity in political thought and approaches,” Lavon said. “But Republicans excommunicate party members for endorsing positions that the GOP leadership dislikes. We can treat each other better than that, but it’s vital for the Democrats in Kansas to hold each other accountable on our basic values. The Progressive Caucus looks forward to supporting a progressive candidate.”

Two Republicans — Rep. Mark Schreiber, of Emporia, and Rep. David Younger, of Ulysses — split from party ranks to join Democrats in opposing the veto override. Neither faced apparent retribution for their votes.

In his radio appearance, Robinson said he didn’t view transgender athletes as a hot topic, but “it became like this snowballing gigantic issue.”

“I thought that I was voting for civility and inclusion and kindness,” Robinson said. “People turned it into something different.”

Robinson said he would feel no guilt or blame for the deaths of transgender kids who kill themselves in response to the legislation.

“The very first thing I would do is pray for their souls and ask God to bless their families and their classmates and their neighbors,” Robinson said.

The Democratic Party, Robinson said, “needs to understand” that regular people are “just trying to survive.”

“I think they’ve kind of neglected the fact that they’re supposed to be there for the working underclass,” Robinson said.

House Minority Leader Vic Miller, a Topeka Democrat, said in a statement that the vote was disappointing and caused “warranted and understandable fear in families across the state.” He said Democrats would work to protect and defend each Kansan’s right to live free of government control.

“It’s sad that rather than keep the focus on the vulnerable youth most affected by this policy, coverage is centered on a rogue, misguided legislator,” Miller said. “I hope we can shift the focus to victims and away from politicians.”

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the editor in chief of Kansas Reflector. He writes about things that powerful people don't want you to know. A two-time Kansas Press Association journalist of the year, his award-winning reporting includes stories about education, technology, foster care, voting, COVID-19, sex abuse, and access to reproductive health care. Before founding Kansas Reflector in 2020, he spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. He graduated from Emporia State University in 2004, back when the school still valued English and journalism. He was raised in the country at the end of a dead end road in Lyon County.