Kansas Democrats blast GOP physicians for pushing disinformation in debate on anti-trans bill

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TOPEKA — House Democrats questioned the integrity of two Republicans legislators who brandished their credentials as physicians while promoting harmful misinformation about transgender children during debate Thursday on legislation that would prohibit doctors from providing gender-affirming care.

The two physicians — Rep. Ron Bryce, R-Coffeyville, and Rep. John Eplee, R-Atchison — falsely described being transgender as transient, “a mental illness” and “a social contagion” during debate Thursday in the House Health and Human Services Committee.

Rep. Lindsay Vaughn, D-Overland Park, said she wished the committee had a fact-checker, given the “substantial information” provided by legislators who are “supposedly doctors.”

“It is crucial for transgender children to be able to have these conversations with their parents and their medical providers and to be given evidence-based care, which gender-affirming care is,” Vaughn said. “And for this Legislature to say that they know better than all of the doctors and parents and experts who say that this is safe, medically necessary, and evidence-based, I think is very problematic. And it also has the potential to do harm to real kids in Kansas.”

Committee chairwoman Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, initiated action on the bill without giving public notice — one week after a hearing in which she evicted leading transgender advocates from Kansas and gave wide berth to out-of-state proponents. On Thursday, the committee inserted the contents of House Bill 2791 into Senate Bill 233 and advanced the legislation to the full House for consideration.

If passed, the law would forbid health care professionals from using surgery or puberty blockers to treat children whose gender identity doesn’t match their sex. It would also ban state employees from promoting or assisting with “social transitioning,” which is defined to include using preferred pronouns or a “manner of dress” from the opposite sex. Another part of the bill would attempt to ban rallies supporting transgender people from Statehouse grounds.

Landwehr addressed the complaints she received following last week’s hearing. In social media comments on Kansas Reflector coverage, she is described as “Gestapo Mary,” a “deplorable bigot,” “an absolute horrible person,” “that monster” and less-polite epithets.

“Since the hearing, the things that I have been called have been despicable,” Landwehr said. “And I can tell you, I do not hate. I may disagree with your lifestyle, but I don’t hate.”

Facts and bias

Eplee said his personal experience as a physician led him to believe that 80-90% of the time, people change their mind about being transgender — a claim that isn’t supported by science or research.

“We’re in the middle of what I think is a social contagion right now that I see,” Eplee said. “And I’m concerned about it as a family physician.”

He also said just one of his patients in 42 years has undergone surgery and hormone therapy, but “I don’t know how they feel about it today.”

Bryce, who is a licensed physician in Texas but not Kansas, authored the bill. He made vague references during Thursday’s debate to unspecified studies from foreign countries and conversations with unnamed individuals who helped shaped his views.

When pressed to identify the people he had spoken with, the only entity he was willing to name was Gays Against Groomers, a hate group funded by the far-right to spreads anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda.

But Bryce said these mysterious influences supported his initial skepticism that “it didn’t sound feasible that by destroying healthy tissue healthy body parts, we could treat a mental illness.”

The goal of his legislation, he said, was to replace “unproven, ineffective and unsafe long-term consequences” with psychotherapy and counseling.

“They don’t need something that is not going to work, and it’s going to ruin them the rest of their lives,” Bryce said.

Rep. Nikki McDonald, D-Olathe, asked Bryce if he thought it was appropriate for lawmakers to intervene between a patient and their medical provider. Bryce avoided the question, but McDonald persisted.

McDonald: “There are many, many major medical associations that testified against your bill for very valid reasons, stating that very often gender-affirming care is necessary medically. So I kind of take issue with the way you’ve stated as factual that this is not medically necessary. Could I ask if if you’re are you licensed in Kansas to treat pediatric patients with gender dysphoria?”

Bryce: “Is that pertinent to the bill?”

McDonald: “I think it is pertinent to the bill. You wrote it.”

Bryce: “I don’t believe it’s germane to the bill. Madam chair?”

Landwehr: “He doesn’t have to respond.”

McDonald: “I just think when we make demonstrative statements that are said to be true as an authority with M.D. behind our names, we should be a little more careful about facts and bias.”

Rep. Lindsay Vaughn
 Rep. Lindsay Vaughn attempted to replace the anti-trans bill with the governor’s plan for Medicaid expansion, but withdrew her amendment after being threatened by Rep. Brenda Landwehr. Vaughn is seen here during a March 14, 2023, hearing. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Medicaid expansion

Vaughn proposed gutting the entirety of the bill and replacing it with the governor’s proposal for Medicaid expansion.

“We should be expanding access to quality, affordable health care,” Vaughn said. “We know how to do that — it’s through Medicaid expansion. We have failed to have a hearing on Medicaid expansion to date, even though that’s something we’ve been promised.”

Landwehr, who committed earlier in the session to holding a hearing on Medicaid expansion, said she was offended by Vaughn’s comment.

“I told you we’re going to have a hearing, and I don’t believe that I have ever misled or lied to members of this committee. I haven’t lied to the members of the press. It is disheartening,” Landwehr said.

She then threatened Vaughn: The Democrats could choose to debate her amendment, which would count as the hearing on Medicaid expansion, or have a full debate on the issue at a later date.

“That’s the choice that I think gets made here today,” Landwehr said. “Because I’m not sure that we need to debate Medicaid expansion twice. We can debate it right now. And we’ve got probably about 25, maybe 30 minutes.”

Vaughn withdrew her amendment.

Earlier in the debate, Vaughn also proposed an amendment that dealt with a provision known as a severability clause. Under her proposal, if a court found any part of the law to be unconstitutional, the entire law would be struck down.

If the committee members really believe the law is constitutional, Vaughn reasoned, they should support her amendment. It failed on a party-line vote.

Rep. Doug Blex
 Rep. Doug Blex, R-Independence, compared hormone treatments to “two bobcats in a bag.” He is seen here during a March 14, 2023, hearing. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

‘Bobcats in a bag’

The way Rep. Doug Blex sees it, the legislation amounts to “common sense” protection for kids

The Independence Republican pondered the mindset of a teenager who is considering gender-affirming care.

“Hormones are raging. They don’t know exactly what they’re doing,” Blex said. “We have an injection of another hormone. To me, it’s pretty simple. It’s like two bobcats in a bag, and there’s no winner.”

Landwehr acknowledged there are different opinions and different studies on the issue. But she pointed out that kids aren’t allowed to vote or get a tattoo before they turn 18 because their brains aren’t fully developed.

“And yet, we’re allowing minors to make a lifelong decision when they choose to do this,” she said.

McDonald said she was “stunned” by “insulting” comments that children who receive hormone treatments will be “ruined.”

“Being transgender is one small sliver of their existence, and they are not ruined for life if they go through a medical procedure,” McDonald said. “So I’m gonna leave it there. But it’s pretty hard for me to be civil at this point”

Free speech

McDonald also raised concerns about a section of the bill that prohibits the use of a state property, facility or building to promote or advocate for “social transitioning, medication or surgery.”

A member of Office of Revisor of Statutes, which provides legal clarity on bills, said the section could be applied to a rally held at the foot of the Capitol steps, although free speech would still be protected. Last year, transgender children and their allies held two rallies at the Statehouse to oppose harmful legislation.

Max Kautsch, a First Amendment attorney in Kansas, responding to an inquiry by Kansas Reflector for this story, said the section would be “rendered meaningless by its own terms.”

“It provides an exception for constitutionally protected activity, which would apply to all peaceful protests involving gender-affirming surgery because political speech is core protected expression under the First Amendment,” Kautsch said. “Meanwhile, if the bill is intended, as it seems, to silence expression that promotes a particular political viewpoint, it cannot be applied in that way and also pass constitutional muster.”

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: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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