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Kansas lawmaker complains about sharing bathroom with trans colleague: NPR


Kansas State Rep. Cheryl Helmer (center), R-Mulvane, looks at one of the electronic House tally boards during voting April 26 at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Helmer publicly complained about having to share the women’s bathroom with a transgender colleague.

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Kansas lawmaker complains about sharing bathroom with trans colleague: NPR

Kansas State Rep. Cheryl Helmer (center), R-Mulvane, looks at one of the electronic House tally boards during voting April 26 at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Helmer publicly complained about having to share the women’s bathroom with a transgender colleague.

John Hanna/AP

TOPEKA, Kan. — LGBTQ rights advocates on Tuesday called for the official censure of a Kansas state legislator after she publicly said she didn’t want to share the Statehouse women’s restroom with a transgender colleague.

Kansas House’s top Republican called GOP state Rep. Cheryl Helmer’s comments “unfortunate” and Democrats condemned them. The state’s leading LGBTQ rights lobbyist saw ‘a new level of toxic bigotry’ in Helmer’s emailed remarks to a University of Kansas student and subsequent interviews about the state Rep. Democrat Stephanie Byers.

The furor over Helmer’s remarks overshadowed an attempt by GOP lawmakers to override Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of a bill banning transgender athletes from women’s and women’s K-12 and college sports.

“We’ve known this has been happening in offices, back rooms and conversations since the day I was elected,” Byers said Tuesday. “What’s shocking is that it came out, someone actually said it.”

Helmer stood firm by her comments while defending a bill she co-sponsored that would make it a crime for doctors to provide hormones or perform gender transition surgery for children under 18. . She also said she was concerned for the safety of young children visiting the Statehouse. and decried what she called an “in your face” approach to promoting transgender rights by Byers, the state’s first elected transgender lawmaker.

The 70-year-old Republican lawmaker also said she tried to make her point when she mistakenly entered the men’s room in the House in early 2021. Men, she said , were surprised and upset, so she asked them how they would like it. whether a woman used her toilet regularly. Pressed on the issue on Monday night, she said parents should not be allowed to “change” their child’s gender.

“You can’t cut off a penis and expect, you know, a little boy to now live his life,” she said. “He will regret for the rest of his life.”

Supporters of the Transgender Athletes Bill have said they want to preserve fair competition and do not go after transgender girls and women. LGBTQ rights advocates said Helmer’s comments prove anti-trans bigotry is behind the measure.

The Kansas Senate voted 28 to 10 on Tuesday to override Kelly’s veto of the transgender athlete bill. A vote in the House will follow, but it probably wasn’t this week.

Republicans in at least 15 states have banned transgender athletes, and several have banned gender-affirming medical care for children. In Michigan, a conservative state senator accused a fellow Democrat of wanting to “groom” and “sexualize” young children, prompting a response that has gone viral on social media.

Helmer is a retired school trustee and nurse educator from Wichita, a conservative Republican elected in 2018 to represent a district south of the state’s largest city. She competes in rodeo barrel racing and has a sign in her office that reads, “My horse is smarter than your honor student.”

Byers, 59, is a retired high school music teacher and band director from Wichita who was elected to the House in 2020.

In her Sunday email to 25-year-old University of Kansas graduate student Brenan Riffel, Helmer wrote: “Now, personally, I don’t appreciate the huge transgender woman who now sits in our toilets. at the Capitol.” Riffel, who describes herself as trans-feminine and uses the pronouns they/them, posted the email to the Kansas Reflector, a nonprofit news provider.

Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, called on the Kansas House to censure Helmer, which would require a formal complaint from another lawmaker and a two-thirds majority vote.

“It’s a new level of toxic bigotry that I’ve never seen in this building before,” Witt said.

Equality Kansas then sent a letter to House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., a Kansas City-area Republican, demanding that Helmer be punished. The speaker can strip a House member of committee assignments, but Ryckman noted that committees no longer meet for the year.

Ryckman said if another lawmaker files a complaint, the House will form a committee to investigate, adding, “She will be held accountable by her constituents.

Byers said several lawmakers walked away from her in the elevator and the Kansas Republican Party’s latest platform, written in 2018, said “we believe that God created two genders, male and female.” .

In his email to Riffel, Helmer wrote, “A doctor can inject medicine and dilute but cannot destroy what God has made in the perfection of the HUMAN BEING.”

Riffel said in an interview that they weren’t surprised by Helmer’s response, “considering what it would take” to sponsor the bill banning gender-affirming care for trans youth.

“The rhetoric against the LGBTQ community has been the same for years, that we’re a threat to society; we’re going to hurt people,” Riffel said. “I just want to move on and be myself.”


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