A Kansas state legislator has publicly complained about having to share the women’s bathroom with a “huge” transgender colleague who she describes as a potential threat to young children visiting the Statehouse.
On Tuesday, Republican State Rep. Cheryl Helmer firmly stood by her comments in an email to a University of Kansas graduate student while defending a bill she co-sponsored that would make it a crime for doctors to provide hormones or do gender transition surgery for children under 18. She also denounced what she called the “in your face” approach to promoting transgender rights by Democratic state Rep. Stephanie Byers, Kansas’ first elected transgender legislator.
The Speaker of the House called Helmer’s comments “unfortunate” and Democrats condemned them. The state’s most visible LGBTQ rights lobbyist has called on the House to censure Helmer.
The Republican-controlled legislature is trying to override Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto to ban transgender athletes in women’s and women’s K-12 and college sports. Supporters have said they want to preserve fair competition and do not attack transgender girls and women, but LGBTQ rights advocates say Helmer’s comments prove anti-trans bigotry is behind the measure.
“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, 70, said in an interview that she was at the Statehouse with a mother and her young daughter and Byers a few months ago, and the daughter was afraid of Byers.
Helmer also said she tried to make a point when she mistakenly entered the men’s room in the House in early 2021. The men, she said, were surprised and upset, so she asked them how they would like a woman to use their 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.”
Meanwhile, the Kansas Senate voted 28-10 on Tuesday to override Kelly’s veto on the transgender athlete bill. A vote in the House will follow, but the timing was unclear.
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 email Sunday to 25-year-old University of Kansas graduate student Brenan Riffel, Helmer wrote: “Now, personally, I don’t appreciate the huge transgender woman who is now in our bathroom at 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.
House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., a Kansas City-area Republican, said he hadn’t seen Helmer’s remarks in full, but “it’s too bad those words were uttered “.
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 HUMAN BEINGS.”
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 are a threat to society; we are going to hurt people,” Riffel said. “I just want to move on and be myself.”
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