Regardless of the outcome of the election, threats to LGBTQ students in Kansas will continue into the new session

The Kansas Reflector welcomes articles from writers who share our goal of broadening the conversation about how public policies affect the daily lives of people across our state. Brenan Riffel is a graduate student studying higher education administration at the University of Kansas, where she serves as an academic advisor and assistant to the comprehensive director.

Think about the values ​​we teach our children to uphold. What are we, as adults, as parents, as teachers, and as role models, telling our children about bullying? Do we tell them that it’s okay to hit other kids, or that it’s totally okay to leave someone out?

Of course not!

This campaign season has seen LGBTQ children targeted by politicians. And if history is any guide, we’ll see more of the same when the Kansas Legislature returns in January.

The Gardner-Edgerton school board is teetering on the edge of targeting trans kids and devaluing their identities. Other school districts, such as $232, are likely to follow. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Member of the “Don’t Say Gay” Act appeared in Kansas spread their values ​​last month.

I recently attended a Shawnee City Council meeting where the city voted 7-1 to issue an official statement that the city believes “everyone should have equal opportunity in sports, but allowing biological males to compete in female-only divisions is robbing girls of their opportunities at all levels.”

Fifteen of the 18 people who spoke that night spoke out against the dangers of this rhetoric. Despite Mayor Michelle Distler’s disapproval of the pre-meeting statement, the meeting remained on the agenda. Councilman Eric Jenkins falsely claimed that trans girls transition only to do better in sports.

I’ve said it before, but every time trans kids’ identities are up for “debate” it hurts their mental health. Stop debating our existence and the validity of our identity. Stop turning hate into philosophical “debates” that rob us of our humanity and our voice.

Let this be a thing of the past no matter what political sensibilities you may have. Kansans will face profound moral questions in the coming months and years. The future of the education system hangs in the balance. It’s about supporting our children’s future and creating an inclusive and safe place for them to thrive.

Hate doesn’t start at the Kansas legislative level: it comes from our cities and schools. This column focuses on national threats to trans students, but members of our school boards and city councils can’t be ignored either.

Rep.  Kristey Williams, R-Augusta, appears during a hearing in February at the Statehouse in Topeka
Rep. Kristey Williams, R-Augusta, appears during a committee hearing in February at the Statehouse in Topeka. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Support for schools and students

We must ensure that our schools are fully funded. We must ensure that our schools do not become political tools where children are targeted. We must ensure that our schools are not threatened with budget cuts to support all students, regardless of their identity.

State Rep. Kristey Williams, R-Augusta, is running unopposed for re-election to the Kansas House. As chairwoman of the K-12 Education Appropriations Committee, she has a direct say in who gets funding and where that funding can be cut. Conversations among Kansas lawmakers about the future of our K-12 system are fraught with tension.

Williams said she believes special education programs are fully funded in the state special educators across the state are struggling support their students.

During a committee hearing on the “parents’ bill of rights,” Williams allowed supporters 10 minutes to speak, while opponents were given two minutes. Three of the bill’s supporters were lobbyists from out-of-state organizations. There were 72 opponents of the bill, but six supporters of the bill received more time than those who spoke against it.

Earlier this year, Williams held a roundtable to discuss it what she called “critical pedagogy”. Williams brought people in to talk. The invitees believed the discussion would be about critical race theory and went on and on about how teachers allegedly indoctrinate children.

You might think that as a former teacher, Williams would care about student safety and the importance of school district funding. Teachers across the state are expected to put their own money into creating an environment conducive to learning. Teachers should not spend their own money to support students. Teachers should not fear that some politician will cut their funding or remove them from their position without explanation.

I studied to be a teacher.

I have a high school education and although I am currently invested in supporting college students, protecting our K-12 students is still important to me. I learned that the point of critical pedagogy is to teach students to discern bias in the information presented to them. Closing off the ability to dialogue outside of a narrow circle is dangerous, intentional, and designed to erase students with marginalized identities—including LGBTQ students.

State Sen. Renee Erickson, Republican of Wichita and vice chair of the Senate Education Committee, was covered by the Kansas Reflector for sponsoring a transphobic account. As a senator, she is not in the election this year.

Let’s look at the voting records of Erickson and Williams.

SB 160: Fairness in women’s sports. It took a veto. Erickson voted to override Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto in the Senate. Williams voted to override the veto in the House.

SB 208: Fairness in women’s sports. The bill died in a House committee; however, Erickson voted to support the bill.

SB 484: Fairness in women’s sports. The bill died in a House committee; however, Erickson voted to support the bill.

Rep. Cheryl Helmer, R-Mulvane, offered her comments on biology, bathroom use and transgender athletes in response to a question from a college student concerned about anti-transgender legislation. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Demonize and attack

Supporters continue to argue that these bills are not aimed at trans children, that they are not attacks on the trans community. These accounts are supposedly just about sports.

If this was indeed the case, what then was the next measure?

HB 2210, which I contacted sponsors already in April, which aimed to take away trans children’s ability to transition by banning doctors from performing gender reassignment surgery or hormone replacement therapy. The idea that doctors often perform these operations on children is a lie weaponized to wipe us out. SB 214 had the same goal and died in committee.

These accounts are not about sports. They are about demonizing and attacking the trans community and sending a message to our trans kids.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt is no stranger on sending hateful messages to trans kids either On September 23, he said on Twitter that Kelly was wrong to oppose the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act. He calls the admission of children of all identities “exposing preschoolers” to “gender identity politics.” It sounds eerily familiar to DeSantis and his stateDon’t say gay“bill?

My identity is not political. Our trans children’s identities are not political. We ask state legislators and public officials to stop contacting us. To stop spreading misinformation. Stop using trans kids as political fodder.

If we care about our schools and our children’s future, this has to stop. Florida is bleeding teachers and kids are being hurt and attacked because of their LGBTQ identity.

K-12 schools opened this fall, according to the Kansas State Department of Education 1,628 vacancies. Teachers are already stretched enough. What do you think will happen if you tell teachers to de-identify their students? What will happen to our LGBTQ teachers?

Those challenges await regardless of the outcome of next month’s election. Kansans who care about the well-being of LGBTQ youth must understand that protecting their rights will take the long view and persistent advocacy.

Our teachers and students deserve nothing less.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector seeks to amplify the voices of those affected by public policy or excluded from the public debate. Find information here, including how to submit your own comment.

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