Transgender and nonbinary people and allies push Lawrence City Commission to stand against anti-trans law

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Nearly three dozen people spoke to the Lawrence City Commission Tuesday, asking commissioners to make Lawrence a sanctuary city for transgender and nonbinary people by taking a stand against the Kansas Legislature.

Speakers asked the commissioners to create an ordinance SB 180, one of the anti-transgender laws the Kansas Legislature passed recently. The so-called “bathroom bill” is intended to bar transgender people from using the bathrooms, locker rooms and other facilities that align with their gender identity, but much is still unknown and unclear about how it will be enforced.


Those who spoke want the city to get ahead of the law before it goes into effect July 1.

Sylvie Althoff, who introduced herself as a trans woman, Lawrence homeowner and business owner, said that as of July 1, she will be breaking the law every time she leaves the house and engages in public life.

Althoff said she has heard that many of the commissioners find SB 180 “abhorrent,” and that they have no intention of enforcing it in Lawrence.

“Your good intentions are appreciated but insufficient,” Althoff told the commission. “… We need something more than private well-wishes. We need a resolution; we need an ordinance. We need something to actually protect ourselves from the implications of SB 180.”

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times Numerous transgender and nonbinary people and allies came to Lawrence City Hall to push commissioners to make Lawrence a sanctuary city for trans folks, June 6, 2023.

Some people shared incidents when they said they were followed out of bathrooms when people recognized that they were trans, even before the bill passed. Many shared concerns that the law will enable and allow vigilantism. Some pointed to the Lawrence PRIDE events that filled downtown with celebration on Saturday, saying that if the commission does not take action against SB 180, the city’s show of pride is hollow.

Some mental health professionals also spoke to the commission, and many speakers pointed to higher rates of suicide among transgender people.

“Transphobia is trauma; cis sexism is trauma; not being protected, seen, valued in your community is trauma,” therapist Cassy Ainsworth said. “We are neurobiologically hardwired for a sense of belonging. There’s no way that somebody could experience a sense of belonging under the umbrella of what’s being experienced here.”

Jenny Robinson, who identified as a social worker, LGBTQIA-affirmative therapist and queer woman, said she experiences and sees the distress that transphobic and homophobic legislation has on the community.

“Our community members deserve to feel safe here, deserve to live and thrive and find joy here,” Robinson said. “This is not just a ‘bathroom bill.’ This is a bill that says ‘You are dangerous, and we will protect our fragile understanding of the world by means of violence.’ … It was not based in any kind of supportive evidence; only in fear, unconscionable ignorance and hatred.”

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times Flags with the message “Everyone is welcome here” and heart stickers in rainbow and trans pride colors sit on a table at Lawrence City Hall, June 6, 2023.

Commissioner Amber Sellers asked the city attorney’s office last month to look at whether the bill will impact local protections for gender identity. City Attorney Toni Wheeler said staff members had looked at the bill and didn’t think it would have any impact on city operations, but they would look at it and provide some information.

Sexual orientation and gender identity are included in the city’s ordinance regarding protected classes, but those who spoke are asking for more. Many speakers also want the Lawrence Police Department to adopt a policy that officers will not arrest, detain, surveil or incarcerate trans people for using sex-segregated spaces based on SB 180.

Commissioner Courtney Shipley requested an update after public comment on Tuesday, acknowledging that it was not typical protocol. Generally, the commission would wait until the end of the meeting to make requests from staff based on public comment.

Wheeler said City Manager Craig Owens had tasked her and Farris Muhammad, the city’s director of equity and inclusion, with working on the matter. She said they had contacted other communities and the Kansas League of Municipalities, and “they are promising to provide us updates as they learn more about it,” Wheeler said.

One local group pushing for the city to take action is No SB 180 in Lawrence. Follow their efforts on Instagram, @nosb180lawrence.

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Note: Post updated June 18, 2023

Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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