Clay Wirestone: Kris Kobach comes for trans Kansans’ birth certificates. Did legislators want this to happen? (Column)

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Of course it would come in the dark of night.

Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach’s move to strip trans Kansans of the right to change their gender markers came late Friday, a notorious dumping ground for unpleasant news. Because here’s the problem with passing laws targeting LGBTQ people under the false pretense of protecting women: At some point you have to do the dirty work of actually targeting LGBTQ people. Apparently, Friday looked ideal.

Kansas legislators now have to face the inevitable fallout of their bad decision: Their votes will hurt those they purport to represent, for no good reason.

Kobach is expected to speak more about the law in question, Senate Bill 180, at a news conference Monday. If his public rhetoric tracks the legal arguments made by his team, he will argue that the new law requires his office to take these steps. You can read that filing in the case below.

But what does it say about the deceit and bad faith behind this “women’s bill of rights” that the first significant legal action after passage wasn’t to protect any woman at all?

What does it say that the first significant legal action was a request to discriminate against trans folks who want to update their birth certificates?

No one, after all, suffers from such a change, woman or man.

“What was true in 2019 remains true today: the state of Kansas cannot pick and choose which constitutionally protected rights it will recognize, and to deny any constitutional right to LGBTQ+ Kansans is unconstitutional and antithetical to our shared values. It’s troubling to see Mr. Kobach cynically seize an opportunity for political gain that will no doubt ultimately be another round of continuing legal education for him,” said Micah Kubic, executive director of the Kansas ACLU, in a statement.

Kubic has a point. We shouldn’t expect better or more from Kobach. The archconservative’s record of anti-gay rhetoric has been helpfully compiled by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, or GLAAD.

According to their website, the state’s attorney general has said that gay parents are “certainly not good for the kids.” He likened polygamy and drug use to homosexuality when opposing the removal of an antigay plank in the Republican platform more than a decade ago. Perhaps a journalist at the news conference Monday might want to ask whether Kobach still holds those views and whether they will shape his enforcement of SB 180.

Did the 112 Kansas representatives and senators who voted to override Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto understand that this would happen? Did Kobach’s office tell them so? If not, why didn’t they seek out the truth that this law would be used first to punish people who were different than them?

Perhaps they didn’t want to know.

The case at issue dates back to 2019, when the state entered into the Foster v. Anderson consent judgment. It set up a legal process for trans Kansans to change their birth certificates.

No one has pointed to any issues in the process in the four years since then. No one has complained that birth certificates have been changed willy-nilly or for some nefarious purpose. Indeed, advocates of SB 180 in the Statehouse used rhetoric designed to mislead.

Here’s House Speaker Dan Hawkins: “The activists who seek to change the definition of a woman ignore the biological differences that exist between the sexes and recklessly expose females to specific forms of violence, including sexual violence, therefore compromising the safety of female-only spaces such as restrooms, domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers and prisons.”

Here’s Wichita Republican Rep. Brenda Landwehr: “Little girls should not have to be exposed to a man in a female bathroom, but the biggest thing comes down to women’s rights, when we fought for 50 years. Why should our rights be taken away?”

Neither one of these lawmakers, you will note, said that they looked forward to discriminating against folks wanting to change an “M” to an “F” or an “F” to an “M” on a piece of paper.

But that’s what they voted for anyway. That’s what 112 of them voted for.

The battle over SB 180 has barely begun. Further legal challenges appear likely, and Kobach’s team will no doubt rack up court appearances aplenty attempting to defend the measure. Transgender Kansans and their families will endure uncertainty. Yet those who would discriminate for political gain now must reap the bitter harvest of their actions.


Clay Wirestone is Kansas Reflector opinion editor.

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.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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