‘This is not the end’: Protesters return to Kansas Statehouse in wake of transgender bathroom ban

By: - May 5, 2023 5:19 pm

Protestors block the view of two people with hateful signs during rally in support of transgender rights on May 5, 2023, at the Statehouse in Topeka. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Rainbow flags, babies in tie-dye and a three-legged dog wearing a trans flag bandana: these are the new symbols of defiance in the battle for LGBTQ rights in Kansas. Transgender protesters once again showed up to make their voices heard at the Statehouse, blasting stories and encouragement to one another through a shaky speaker system.

“This is not the end. There is a huge fight ahead that we are poised to win. And we are going to win it together,” said Adam Kellogg, one of about 50 demonstrators camped out on the south side of the Capitol to speak against a wide-ranging transgender bathroom ban Friday. 

At the top of the bronze dome gleaming in the bright afternoon light, visitors yelled down a question to the brightly colored group of protestors who dotted the steps below: “Is that a trans flag?” 

It was. In fact, there were dozens of flags, and the people holding them expressed anger and frustration. The protest comes at the end of a legislative session rife with bills geared toward policing the transgender community. Senate Bill 180, a wide-ranging “bathroom bill” recently made law, bans individuals who are born without the ability to produce eggs for reproduction from using women’s restrooms, locker rooms and other gender-specific areas.

The legislation applies to athletics, prison facilities, domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers, locker rooms, restrooms and “other areas where biology, safety or privacy are implicated that result in separate accommodations.”

Leo McDaniel, a protester who showed up wearing a homemade “Proud To Be Trans”shirt,  said they were sick of having their body and life being put up for public debate. 

“I’m just f***ing upset that I have to be here, that I have to tell people that I am real, I’m not scary, I exist and I don’t want to have to do this,” McDaniel said. “I don’t want to have to tell people about this, I don’t want people coming up to me anymore and asking what genitals I have.” 

Kansas Republicans have justified the legislation, termed a “women’s bill of rights,” by claiming that women are in danger of having their rights usurped by transgender or nonbinary individual, though no one has pointed to any evidence of this happening in the state. 

Implementation of the law and how it will affect transgender people’s daily lives remains unclear, but it could involve birth certificate requirements or genital checks. 

“I’m f***ing tired of people talking about my f***ing genitals,” McDaniel said. 

Leo McDaniel speaks in support of transgender rights on May 5, 2023, at the Statehouse in Topeka. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

During the rally, McDaniel and their fellow protesters used their bodies and signs to cover up Justin Spiehs, one of two counter-protesters who showed up with transphobic signs. Spiehs’ sign read “If you’re born with a dick then you’re not a chick.” His fellow protestor, who refused to give her name, clutched a sign reading “Make ‘normal’ great again.”  

While protestors were there to rally against SB180, the GOP-dominated Legislature spent a significant amount of time during this year’s legislative session pushing through other bills that target transgender children. 

Kansas became the 20th state to pass a transgender student athlete ban into law in April, after lawmakers were able to scrape up enough votes to override Kelly’s veto. Transgender girls are now blocked from playing women’s sports from kindergarten through college, though this law is likely to be challenged on constitutional grounds. 

Senate Republicans failed to override Kelly’s veto of a bill essentially banning gender-affirming care for Kansans under the age of 18, but the Legislature was successful in overturning Kelly’s veto of Senate Substitute for House Bill 2138, a bill requiring local school boards to implement requirements separating students based on “biological sex” during school-sponsored overnight stays. 

Monty Protest, a 19-year-old college student, said protesters should remember the joy within the LGBTQ experience. 

“Every day, I say ‘Thank God that I was born transgender,’” Protest said. “It is the absolutely most beautiful thing about me, and it is a beautiful experience to have. Do not let these people who are trying to shut you up silence you.”

“No matter how dirty it gets, no matter how awful it gets, just remember how amazing it is,” Protest added. 

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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.