D.C. Hiegert: Anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and laws harm your Kansas neighbors. We can build a more welcoming state. (Column)

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Even as data shows a majority of the country supports LGBTQ+ people and their rights, hostility and violence against the community is on the rise. The past two years have been the deadliest for transgender people in recent history, in large part due to the rapidly increasing number of legislative attacks against trans peoples’ rights and the resurgence of demeaning and harmful anti-trans rhetoric in our communities.

Kansas is no exception.

In Kansas, this anti-trans sentiment has shown up everywhere — at school board meetings, in local governance, in political campaigns and in the state Legislature. The most recent example of this is Senate Bill 12, a discriminatory bill introduced in the Kansas Senate that would make it a crime to provide gender-affirming medical care to trans people under 21 years old. The bill not only uses offensive and inaccurate terminology, but it also attempts to ban medically necessary, safe, effective and evidence-based medical care. That care is recommended and supported by countless medical and mental health professionals, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

Kansas is home to more than 92,000 LGBTQ+ people, including an estimated 14,400 trans folks. Issues affecting the LGBTQ+ community affect our Kansas community as a whole, and we must not ignore that fact. This is especially important to keep in mind as the 2023 legislative session begins and transgender Kansans are in the crosshairs of ill-informed state representatives looking to score political points.

Being informed and prepared to take action in support of LGBTQ+ Kansans is crucial — not only because they face an onslaught of attacks in the political arena, but also because they are experience disproportionately high rates of discrimination across the state. The ACLU of Kansas hears from countless LGBTQ+ Kansans who endure discrimination at their jobs, in their schools, at their doctor’s offices, and in their local communities.

In fact, the ACLU of Kansas recently conducted a survey of nearly 100 LGBTQ+ Kansans and advocates to hear about what challenges they are facing and identify their unaddressed needs. The results painted a picture of a state that has much work to do before the community feels safe, accepted and respected.

Unsurprisingly, 98.9% of these Kansans said they were fearful about anti-LGBTQ+ laws passing in the Kansas Legislature. More than half (51%) of LGBTQ+ Kansans reported experiencing discrimination because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression — including losing their jobs, being denied medical care and being turned away from businesses. Additionally, nearly one-third (32.2%) of LGBTQ+ Kansans said they felt unsafe and unsupported in their local communities.

While these results may be disheartening, this does not have to be the reality. In fact, most Kansans want to protect LGBTQ+ people. A clear majority, 67%, of Kansans support LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination protections.

This fact doesn’t surprise me. As a lifelong Kansan, I’m familiar with our state’s sense of community and generosity. But as an openly queer and trans person, I’m also familiar with the challenges LGBTQ+ people face living here.

That is why I’m working with the ACLU of Kansas to enforce, strengthen, and expand LGBTQ+ Kansans’ legal protections. As a part of this work, the ACLU has launched an LGBTQ+ Advocacy Resource Hub on our website that will house various resources and information related to LGBTQ+ Kansans’ civil rights, including toolkits explaining the their legal rights and how to enforce them, as well as updates and alerts related to LGBTQ+ issues in the Kansas legislature. Throughout 2023, new materials will be added to the hub, and the ACLU will continue to expand resources in this location in coming years.

I believe we can make Kansas a welcoming and accepting state where LGBTQ+ people can live authentically and thrive. But LGBTQ+ Kansans cannot do it alone. We need you in our corner, taking part in the fight. We need people power, political engagement, and communities committed to acting with love. If you are ready to get involved, you can sign up to become an ACLU of Kansas activist and join the fight for LGBTQ+ Kansans’ civil rights here.

— D.C. Hiegert is an attorney and the Skadden Foundation LGBTQ+ Fellow at the ACLU of Kansas, where they work to protect and enforce LGBTQ+ Kansans’ civil rights.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas 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. Find how to submit your own commentary to The Lawrence Times here.

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