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Kansas Lawmaker Objects to 'Huge Transgender Female' in Restroom

Cheryl Helmer and Stephanie Byers
From left: Cheryl Helmer and Stephanie Byers

Republican Rep. Cheryl Helmer also falsely claimed trans people are predators and denounced gender-affirmation surgery.

A Kansas state representative is drawing outrage for her anti-transgender remarks, including her objection to sharing the women's restroom with a transgender colleague and her false claims about trans people being sexual predators.

Rep. Cheryl Helmer, a Republican who represents a district south of Wichita, was replying to an email from a University of Kansas graduate student when she wrote, "Now, personally I do not appreciate the huge transgender female who is now in our restrooms in the Capitol." The student, Brenan Riffel, who is transfeminine, had written to Helmer to express opposition to a bill the lawmaker is sponsoring that would make it a felony to provide gender-affirming care to minors. Riffel shared the email exchange with the Kansas Reflector, which was the first media outlet to report the story.

The trans woman referenced by Helmer is Rep. Stephanie Byers, a Wichita Democrat who in 2020 became the first out trans elected official in Kansas and the first Indigenous trans person elected to any state legislature. "It is quite uncomforting" to share a restroom with a trans woman, Helmer said in the email, adding that she considers trans people a threat.

"We have a very unfair situation," she wrote. "We as women have humans that are much larger, stronger, more adrenaline and testosterone and therefore possibly more dangerous and we have to share our restrooms. Not only that but our wee little girls in elementary and middle and high school are having to be exposed and many have been raped, sodomized and beaten in the restrooms by these supposedly transgenders who may or may not be for real." There is, of course, no evidence of any such assault.

Byers and others expressed shock at Helmer's rhetoric. "We know this has been going on in offices and back rooms and conversations since the day I was elected," Byers told the Associated Press. "The shocking part is that it came out, that someone actually said it." To the Reflector, she noted, "How embarrassing is it that this is the same argument that was said in the 1950s and 1960s about why you couldn't have Black people in the same restroom -- because they were predators. "And you know, that stigma carries on. We still see it."

Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, told the AP that Helmer's remarks constitute "a new level of toxic bigotry." His group sent a letter to House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr. demanding disciplinary action against Helmer for her "incendiary and slanderous comments." Ryckman has the authority to strip House members of committee assignments, but committees are no longer meeting this year, he told the AP. If another legislator files a complaint against Helmer, there will be an investigation, he added.

LGBTQ Victory Fund President and CEO Annise Parker released a statement calling for Helmer's resignation."We unequivocally condemn Representative Helmer's ugly transphobic attack against Representative Byers, a trans woman and fierce advocate for the marginalized communities who are too often the target of hate. We call on Representative Helmer to take accountability for her hateful words and actions and immediately resign. Absent that, we call on Speaker Ron Ryckman and senior leadership to take immediate disciplinary action against Representative Helmer to ensure public accountability. This is unprofessional behavior toward a colleague and should have been sanctioned by leadership already. ... Any attack against a person because of their gender identity is morally reprehensible and demands decisive sanction. Justice must be served swiftly and publicly."

Helmer's email to Riffel also contained a denunciation of gender-confirmation procedures. "No surgeon can cut, remove, wop, add to change the biology that is chemically occuring [sic] in each and every fiber, bone and molecule of every human being," she wrote. "A doctor can inject meds and dilute but cannot destroy what God has done in the perfection of the HUMAN BEING."

She has since doubled down on those comments. "You can't lop a penis off and then expect, you know, a little boy to now live his life," she said Monday, according to the AP. "He'll be in regret for the rest of his life." However, genital surgery is generally not performed on minors. Gender-affirmation treatment given to people under 18 usually consists of hormones and puberty blockers.

Helmer's bill has not received a hearing. Alabama is the only state so far to criminalize gender-confirmation treatment for minors. Arkansas has banned such treatment, but its law would subject health care workers to professional discipline rather than criminal penalties, and it is temporarily blocked from enforcement while a lawsuit against it is heard. In Texas, the governor has directed the state's Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate parents who allow their children access to this care as potential child abusers. That order is also temporarily blocked by a court while a lawsuit proceeds.

Kansas conservatives are trying to put another anti-trans law in place, though. They are seeking to override Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly's veto of a bill that would bar trans girls and women from participating alongside cisgender female athletes in public schools, including state colleges and universities, and any private schools that compete against them. The Senate voted Tuesday to override the veto, but the matter has yet to come to a vote in the House.

Anti-trans legislation in general is about "bullying somebody who's different," Byers told the Reflector. "It's heartbreaking for the community at large," she continued. "You get a 15-year-old kid who's going to try to tell his classmates that he's really a girl. And she's all set, ready to do this. And she's found a teacher who's supportive, and she's found a counselor who is supportive. And then an article runs about the state banning trans girls, or an article runs about other states like Alabama or Florida or wherever considering or passing laws to ban affirmative health care. All that bravery begins to wane. Because the minute you say something, people are looking at you differently."

Advocate Magazine - KehlaniAdvocate Magazine - Gus Kenworthy

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