Community members again push Lawrence City Commission to take action against anti-trans state law

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After hearing from about 70 people Tuesday, Vice Mayor Bart Littlejohn encouraged people to reach out to the city to discuss possibilities for an ordinance to protect transgender and gender-nonconforming people from Kansas’ anti-trans legislation.

Dozens of trans and nonbinary people and allies implored commissioners over roughly the first three hours of their meeting to take action before SB 180 and other anti-trans legislation go into effect July 1.

SB 180 was intended to bar trans people from using restrooms, locker rooms and other facilities that align with their gender identity.

Local activists, particularly with a group called No SB 180 in Lawrence, have aligned against SB 180. The group has even drafted a “safe haven” ordinance that members will encourage the city to use. Among other things, their draft ordinance suggests preventing city funding from being used to enforce any of the anti-trans bills or gathering or disseminating any information about any person’s “biological sex, either male or female, at birth,” as the statute says.

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times Lawrence city commissioners Brad Finkeldei (back, from left), Vice Mayor Bart Littlejohn, Courtney Shipley and Amber Sellers, as well as City Clerk Sherri Riedemann and City Manager Craig Owens, listen to public comment, June 20, 2023.

Littlejohn on Tuesday said the city has received the draft, and he encouraged people who want to work with the city to contact Farris Muhammad, the city’s director of equity and inclusion, and the city attorney’s office.

“I believe it would behoove us to go ahead and talk to each other about progressing and moving further,” he said. “… We want to get it right, and we want to involve people in the process.”

During the last commission meeting, nearly three dozen people had spoken to the commission. Activists said they were hoping for an even bigger group on Tuesday, and they saw about double the number of people show up.

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times Activists fill Lawrence City Hall to encourage commissioners to take action to protect transgender and gender-nonconforming people, June 20, 2023.

Speakers included many who shared their stories of growing up as trans kids; people who finally felt accepted when they moved to Lawrence; cisgender, straight and queer people; and a wide range of ages and backgrounds.

Many said they don’t want to leave Lawrence or Kansas because it’s home, but they want to see the city take action to protect gender-diverse people, “because we cannot live under these conditions,” Monroe Hanson said.

“We cannot live here in Kansas now. I ask the commission, let us live in Lawrence,” they said. “Please, please pass a sanctuary city ordinance protecting trans, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming folks in Lawrence. I want to live without fear of prosecution for existing in public; I want trans kids to play sports and have those amazing teamwork experiences.”

Hanson said city officials and the Lawrence Police Department had said SB 180 wouldn’t be enforced — “an easy claim for a law that does not currently have an enforcement mechanism,” they said. “I want your promises in writing. I want city policy.”

One man who identified as cisgender said he had just moved from Arkansas with his family that day. One of his girlfriend’s children is nonbinary. Between the city’s inaction on SB 180 and the union demonstration also held Tuesday, he said it was devastating, and it felt like they had wound up right back in the same place.

Several people also said they had never spoken at a meeting like that before, but they felt it was important to make their voices heard Tuesday.

Two people spoke against city protections for trans people. Amy Baughman spoke against trans people being allowed to use restrooms that align with their gender identities, using multiple slurs during her comments. Another person said he didn’t think the city needed an ordinance because “I believe that an ordinance or a state law is not going to change the way somebody feels inside them,” he said. “That has to come with acceptance of who they are and of a higher power.”

Reagan Eidemiller, a member of No SB 180 in Lawrence, has said the group is welcoming all the help they can get. Find out more about No SB 180 in Lawrence, including links to follow their efforts on Facebook and Instagram, via their LinkTree,

It is unlikely the city will be able to take action such as pass an ordinance before SB 180 takes effect July 1. The commission will not meet again until Tuesday, July 11.

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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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