Kansans aren’t as crazy and extreme as the elected officials they put in office. Although there is a conservative Democrat representing there 3rd district (Kansas City, Overland Park, Olathe) and a Democratic governor, almost everyone else in office is a Republican, many of them extremely extreme. The state legislature consists of 29 Republicans and 11 Democrats and the state House has 85 Republicans and 40 Dems. Republicans call the shots. Last year the legislature put a purposely confusing abortion referendum on the ballot that would have given them the power to prosecute individuals involved in abortions.The amendment was soundly rejected— 557,837 (59.2%) to 385,014 (40.8%)— and even the most conservative congressional districts saw it bite the dust. The no votes outperformed Biden’s vote share in every county in the state, and won in several suburban counties where Trump had won a majority in 2020.
That said, the extremist legislators are still out for blood. AP reported yesterday that they’ve “enacted what may be the most sweeping transgender bathroom law in the U.S. on Thursday, overriding the Democratic governor’s veto of the measure without having a clear idea of how their new law will be enforced. The vote in the House was 84-40, giving supporters exactly the two-thirds majority they needed to override Gov. Laura Kelly’s action. The vote in the Senate on Wednesday was 28-12, and the new law will take effect July 1. At least eight other states have enacted laws preventing transgender people from using the restrooms associated with their gender identities, but most of them apply to schools. The Kansas law applies also to locker rooms, prisons, domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers… Critics of the new law believe it is an attempt to legally erase transgender people while also refusing to recognize gender fluid, gender non-conforming and non-binary people. They argued that the bill’s vagueness will prompt harassment of transgender people.
When she vetoed the bill, Kelly suggested it was discriminatory and said it would hurt the state’s ability to attract businesses.
The new law is part of a larger push by Republicans across the U.S. to roll back LGBTQ+ rights, particularly transgender rights. At least 21 states, including Kansas, restrict or ban female transgender athletes’ participation in female sports. At least 14 states— but not Kansas— have restricted or banned gender-affirming care for minors.
The new Kansas bathroom law borrows language— and a title— from three national groups’ anti-trans “Women’s Bill of Rights.”
One of those groups, Independent Women’s Voice, said the new law will “prevent judges, unelected bureaucrats, and administrators in Kansas from unilaterally redefining the word ‘woman’ to mean anyone who ‘identifies as a woman.’”
Under the new law in Kansas, legally “sex” means “biological” sex, “either male or female, at birth,” though it allows accommodations for intersex people if their conditions are considered disabilities under U.S. law. Intersex people can have ambiguous external genitalia at birth or conditions involving external genitals that don’t match a person’s sex chromosomes.
The new law declares that females have a reproductive system at birth “developed to produce ova,” while males have one “developed to fertilize the ova.”
…[C]ritics believe that the new law will prompt harassment not only of transgender people but nonbinary, gender-fluid and gender-nonconforming people.
“Tomboys, people who just aren’t really that into femininity as a woman, they can’t freely express themselves without being worried that they’re going to be called out and removed from the spaces that they rightfully belong in,” said Adam Kellogg, a 19-year-old transgender University of Kansas student.
Former state Rep. Stephanie Byers, the first elected transgender Kansas lawmaker who now lives in Texas, predicted that legal chaos is coming to her former home state.
While the attack on transgender people is not physical, Byers said, “They’re taking us out in every possible way.”
With Adam Schiff’s decision to give up his L.A. congressional seat to run for Senate, California may be on the verge of electing the first openly transgender member of Congress, Maebe Pudlo (who’s better known by her stage name, Maebe A. Girl). Yesterday, Maebe told he supporters that “Last week the Montana state legislature censured transgender Representative Zooey Zephyr, barring her from speaking on the House floor after she defended the right to gender-affirming care. Yesterday, they voted to formally punish her for the rest of the legislative session, after hundreds of protesters showed up at the capitol to defend her. Why all the bigotry? Because when speaking on a House bill to ban gender-affirming care for minors, Rep. Zephyr said Republican lawmakers have ‘blood on their hands.’ She’s right— trans and nonbinary youth see a 73% lower suicide risk when given access to gender-affirming care. When puberty and self-awareness come long before the age of 18, the state shouldn’t be dictating kids’ gender expression for them.”
Maebe pointed out that “The GOP uses children as a tactic time and time again in their fight against individual freedoms— they pick a culture war topic and say its visibility is ‘harmful’ to developing youth. It happened with gay people in the 1970s and 80s, and it’s happening now with gay and trans people and drag performers. Children are people too, not political pawns. Lawmakers like Zooey Zephyr and countless others in GOP-controlled states who have spoken out about these bills have my unwavering admiration and support. It’s not easy to be a minority— but in their convictions, defenders of transgender rights are actually a clear majority in this country… The GOP brands themselves the ‘party of freedom,’ but these days they’re more often the party of tyranny. It’s time to give trans people the national spotlight we need to affirm our rights.”
Blue America has endorsed Maebe who is a top contender among a dozen corporate, establishment people, largely financed by charter school special interests. Please consider contributing to her grassroots campaign here.
There’s another development in the Montana tragedy. This week, the Montana Free Press reported that In late March, David Gianforte made an appointment to talk about three bills with Montana’s Republican governor, Greg Gianforte, who happens to be his father. David, 32, sat down in the governor’s office on March 27 with a prepared statement about legislation affecting transgender Montanans and the LGBTQ+ community generally, to which David says he belongs. He wanted to talk about Senate Bill 99, a ban on gender-affirming health care for minors; Senate Bill 458, a bill to define sex as strictly binary in Montana code; and House Bill 359, a ban on drag performances in many public spaces. Sitting across from his father in the governor’s office, with Gianforte’s top health adviser present, David said, he read his printed statement out loud.”
“Hey Dad. Thanks for setting aside time to meet with me, it means a lot to me,” David said. “There are a lot of important issues passing through the legislature right now. For my own sake I’ve chosen to focus primarily on transgender rights, as that would significantly directly affect a number of my friends … I would like to make the argument that these bills are immoral, unjust, and frankly a violation of human rights.”
David, who identifies as nonbinary and uses “he” and “they” pronouns, is the governor’s second oldest of four children. In an April 25 interview, he said he didn’t know what kind of impact lobbying his father, the governor, might have. But David said they felt strongly about using their connection and access to one of the state’s most powerful elected officials to bring more light to issues impacting LGBTQ+ Montanans. He said he initially reached out to his father over email, asking him “as your constituent and your son” to veto the legislation advancing toward his desk.
“I felt somewhat of an obligation to speak with him about it. Otherwise I would regret the missed opportunity,” David said.
The elder Gianforte responded hours later, according to an email exchange David provided to Montana Free Press, thanking David for writing about an issue that was important to him.
“I would like to better understand your thoughts and concerns. When can we get together to talk about it?” the governor wrote, signing the email, “Love, Dad.”
…Throughout the session, much public and media attention has been focused on the bills David is concerned about. As of Friday, SB 99, the ban on gender-affirming health care for minors, is the first to land on the governor’s desk and is awaiting his signature or veto.
In addition to hours of testimony and lawmaker debates, a legislative tally updated Tuesday morning counted more than 1,500 phone calls and messages to lawmakers in support of Senate Bill 99 and more than 1,800 in opposition. Roughly 1,300 people respectively registered their favor and disfavor for Senate Bill 458, which would define “sex” in state law. The drag show restriction, HB 359, has garnered comments from nearly 246 proponents and 608 opponents and prompted drag performers to gather at the state Capitol in April for a highly visible demonstration and story hour.
The displays of emotion and tension the bills have caused in other parts of the statehouse haven’t triggered many public reactions from the governor’s wing on the second floor. Gianforte dodged questions at a March press conference about where he stands on SB 99. After being repeatedly pressed, Gianforte eventually told reporters that it is “extremely important we take the input of constituents and hear from all sides,” and added that he had met with transgender Montanans and their families about the bills.
Days before those remarks, David was one of the people urging the governor to veto the bill. In emails and in conversation during their meeting, David said, his father was thoughtful and stated a number of reasons for supporting the legislation. Even with their divergent perspectives, David said, he left the office feeling like a weight was off his shoulders.
Weeks later, David said, his mood shifted. The governor sent SB 99 back to the Legislature with amendments that, in David’s view, did not make the legislation better for the state’s LGBTQ+ community. The changes included revised definitions of sex to account for children with intersex conditions, Gianforte said, and tightened prohibitions on the use of public funds for minors’ gender-affirming medical treatments.
David said they had asked their father to think about transgender Montanans with empathy and compassion, even if the governor didn’t share their experiences. In his letter to lawmakers explaining the amendments, Gianforte referenced those same values— empathy and compassion— while also expressing support for the bill. To David, the letter didn’t make sense.
“It’s bizarre to me to read the press release that my father put out,” David said. “He talks about compassion toward children, the youth of Montana, while simultaneously taking away health care from the youth in Montana. It’s basically a contradiction in my mind.”
David said he knows transgender people who have benefitted from the medical services SB 99 would restrict, such as hormone therapy, including some who started taking those medications as teenagers. The other bills, he said, amount to invasions of privacy and attempts to curb the right of self-expression.
In committee hearings and floor debates, supporters of SB 99, the bill banning gender-affirming health care for minors, have focused on the government’s obligation to protect minors from making consequential medical choices before they turn 18. Backers of SB 458, which would define “sex” in state code, have placed a high value on defining sex as exclusively male or female based on reproductive characteristics. Some lawmakers who have spoken in favor of the bill banning drag performances in certain spaces have cast such shows as inherently sexual and inappropriate for minors.
All three bills have largely passed along party lines, with Republicans supporting the legislation and Democrats opposing. SB 458 awaits a final vote in the Senate before it can head to Gianforte’s desk; HB 359 is scheduled for further deliberation by lawmakers from both chambers in a conference committee.
Having grown up in a devout Christian household, raised on values his parents continue to publicly endorse, David said he attributes some Republican legislative support for the bills to lawmakers’ strongly held beliefs about how God created humans. He also said he sees the political party system as unaccommodating to diverse perspectives, and thinks that pressure to conform might be a factor influencing his father, too.
“He is concerned about his career. He has particular issues that he focuses on, such as jobs and the economy. And he’s aware that being able to stay in the position of governor is dependent on him staying in favor of the Republican Party,” David said. “And I believe that that affects his decisions on some of these bills.”
In recent days, David began publicly sharing their political sentiments. On Twitter last week, they shared a post from Rep. Zooey Zephyr, D-Missoula, the transgender lawmaker whose attempts to speak on the House floor have been continuously refused by Republican leadership because of comments she made criticizing Gianforte’s changes to SB 99, and any lawmaker who supported the amended bill. David also shared their own perspective.
“I stand in support of @ZoAndBehold and the entire LGBTQ+ community of Montana, which includes myself and many of my friends,” David wrote. “I have worked to oppose bills in the current MT Legislative session including SB 99 and SB 458.”
David said he doesn’t expect that his public remarks, or his conversation with his father, will change the outcome of any bill. But, David said, he doesn’t want to take part in sweeping issues under the rug. Only by speaking candidly and openly can people move forward, he said, in their own families or in the public sphere.
“I feel like I have a voice and I can be heard. And I feel, not only in communicating with my father, that’s not necessarily the main point, but also just showing support for the transgender community in Montana,” David said. “I think that could be meaningful, especially at this time.”
Yesterday I spoke with Tom Winter, a former member of the Montana House who represented a district near Zooey’s. He told me that One framing left out of the conversation is that silencing Rep Zephyr due to her gender identity isn’t just bullying, it isn’t just cruel, it isn’t just bigotry— its also antidemocratic. With her off the floor— and with the GOP essentially disbanding all committees she sits on— the Montana Republicans are burning the House down with themselves inside. Stopping hearings in those committees means hundreds of thousands of Montanans— Republican and Democratic, straight and LGBTQ, rural and urban— are deprived of a constitutionally-guaranteed voice on these matters. We’re a tiny state, so Montanans have grown accustomed to direct interaction with the legislative process. Cutting them out of it to spite Rep Zephyr angers voters of every persuasion.”
He added, “Another framing: This has been a debacle for the Montana GOP. Governor Gianforte has essentially disavowed them (and he’s a tech billionaire millienarian Christian for chrissakes) even though they are the same party and share essentials the same goals. The ‘Montana Freedom Caucus’ now realizes they can dictate the entire state government agenda. And on the legislative side, 3-4 families really control the GOP. They have multiple elected in both chambers, etc. One is Speaker Matt Regier’s family. They’ve been behind attempts to steal Native American Reservation lands, take a way a woman’s right to choose, and bully LGBTQ Montanas this session. His dad, his sister, and his mother have all been in office at one time or another. This episode has shown their inability to control the caucus, so I expect more infighting and fracturing after their favored son has so royally fucked this situation up.”