Regardless of the election results, threats against LGBTQ students in Kansas will continue in a new session
Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of expanding the conversation about how public policy affects the daily lives of people across our state. Brenan Riffel is a graduate student in higher education administration at the University of Kansas, where she serves as both an academic advisor and deputy director of the complex.
Think about the values we teach our children. What can we as adults, parents, teachers and role models tell our children about bullying? Should we tell them that it’s okay to hit other kids, or that it’s totally cool to exclude someone?
Of course not!
This campaign season we have seen LGBTQ children targeted by politicians. And if history is any guide, we’ll see more of the same when the Kansas Legislature returns in January.
The Gardner-Edgerton School Board is about to target trans kids and invalidate their identities. Other school districts, such as USD 232, seem likely to follow. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, the author of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, showed up in Kansas last month to spread its values.
Recently, I attended a meeting of the Shawnee City Council where the city decided in a 7-1 decision to release an official statement that the city believes “all should have equal opportunity in sport, but allow biological men to compete in female-only divisions is to deprive girls of their opportunities at all levels.
Fifteen of the 18 people who spoke that evening objected to the dangers of this rhetoric. Despite Mayor Michelle Distler’s opposition to the statement before the meeting, it remained on the agenda. Councilor Eric Jenkins falsely stated that trans girls are just transitioning to do better in sports.
I’ve said this before, but every time trans children’s identities are “debated” it damages their mental health. Stop debating our existence and the validity of our identity. Stop turning hate into philosophical “debates” that rob us of our humanity and our voice.
Put that in the past tense, whatever your political sentiments. The Kansans will face deep moral questions in the months and years to come. The future of the education system hangs in the balance. It’s about whether or not you support the future of our children and create an inclusive and safe place for them to thrive.
Hate doesn’t start in the Kansas legislature: it starts in our cities and schools. This column focuses on statewide threats to trans students, but members of our school boards and city councils can’t be ignored either.
Support schools and students
We need to make sure our schools are fully funded. We must ensure that our schools do not become political tools where children become targets. We must ensure that our schools are not threatened with budget cuts to support all students, regardless of their identity.
State Rep. Kristey Williams, R-Augusta, is running unopposed for re-election to the Kansas House. As chair of the K-12 education budget committee, she has a say in who receives funding and where that funding may be cut. Discussions among Kansas lawmakers over the future of our K-12 system are fraught with tension.
Williams said she believes special education programs are fully funded in the state, when special education teachers across the state struggle to support their students.
At a committee hearing on a “parents’ bill of rights,” Williams gave supporters 10 minutes to speak while opponents were given two minutes. Three of the bill’s supporters were lobbyists for organizations outside the state. There were 72 opponents of the bill, but the bill’s six supporters got more time than those who spoke against it.
Earlier this year, Williams held a roundtable to discuss what she called “critical pedagogy”. Williams brought people over to have a chat. Those invited thought the discussion would be about critical race theory and went on and on about how teachers are supposed to indoctrinate children.
You might think that as a former teacher, Williams would care about student safety and the importance of funding for school districts. Teachers across the state are expected to donate their own money to create an environment conducive to learning. Teachers should not spend their own money to support students. Teachers shouldn’t have to worry about a politician cutting funding or removing them from their jobs without explanation.
I studied to become a teacher.
I have a secondary education degree, and while I am currently invested in supporting students, protecting our K-12 students is always important to me. I learned that the purpose of critical pedagogy is to teach students to discern bias in the information presented to them. Shutting off the ability to engage outside of a narrow framework is dangerous, intentional, and designed to erase students with marginalized identities, including LGBTQ students.
State Senator Renee Erickson, Republican of Wichita and vice chair of the Senate Education Committee, was covered by Kansas Reflector for sponsoring a transphobic bill. As a senator, she is not on the ballot this year.
Let’s take a look at the voting records of Erickson and Williams.
SB 160: Equity in Women’s Sport. Veto maintained. Erickson voted to override Governor Laura Kelly’s Senate veto. Williams voted to override the veto in the House.
SB 208: Equity in Women’s Sport. The bill died in House committee; however, Erickson voted in favor of the bill.
SB 484: Equity in Women’s Sport. The bill died in House committee; however, Erickson voted in favor of the bill.
Demonize and attack
Supporters continue to say that these bills are not intended to target trans children, that they are not attacks on the trans community. These bills relate only to sport.
If that was really the case, then what about the next step?
HB 2210, that I contacted sponsors back in april, aimed at suppressing trans children’s ability to transition by prohibiting doctors from performing gender reassignment surgery or hormone replacement therapy. The idea that doctors frequently perform these operations on children is a weaponized lie to erase us. SB 214 had the same goal and died in committee.
These bills are not about sport. It’s about demonizing and attacking the trans community and sending a message to our trans children.
Attorney General Derek Schmidt is no stranger at send hateful messages to trans kids That is. On September 23 on Twitter, he said Kelly was wrong to oppose the Women’s Sports Equity Act. He describes the acceptance of children of all identities as “exposing kindergartners” to the “politics of gender identity.” Does this sound oddly familiar to DeSantis and his condition”don’t say gay” invoice?
My identity is not political. The identity of our trans children is not political. We call on state lawmakers and officials to stop targeting us. To stop spreading false information. Stop using trans kids as political fodder.
If we care about our schools and the future of our children, it has to stop. Florida is hemorrhaging teachers and children are being hurt and targeted because of their LGBTQ identity.
According to the Kansas State Department of Education, K-12 schools opened this fall with 1,628 vacancies. The teachers are already quite dispersed. What do you think will happen when you tell teachers to invalidate their students’ identities? What will happen to our teachers with an LGBTQ identity?
These challenges await regardless of the election results next month. Kansans who care about the well-being of LGBTQ youth need to understand that protecting their rights will take a long-term view and persistent advocacy.
Our teachers and students deserve no less.
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 review, here.