Ericka Nicholson is afraid for her son. Not because of school shootings, social media, or drugs and alcohol, but because the majority party in her home state of Kansas denies her son’s transgender identity.
“What makes me worry? A climate that somehow makes vulnerable children like my son a target in discussions at the [Kansas State] Capitol, in school board meetings, and at dinner tables in Kansas when children ask their parents what’s going on,” said Nicholson, who lives in a small town in western Kansas with her 15-year-old son. “I am worried that in anyone’s eyes, my child is less valuable or less important than any other child.”
Days after a school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people, the Kansas Republican Party focused its efforts not on matters of public safety, but on invalidating transgender identities at its convention. The state party committee, made up of about 180 people with delegates from each of the state’s congressional districts, endorsed a resolution to “oppose all efforts to validate transgender identity” and affirms the existence of two sexes by “God’s design.”
“There is no scientific consensus regarding the ethics or effectiveness of attempts to align one’s biology with one’s self-perception through experimental and exploratory medicine,” the GOP document states.
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Rewire asked Republican congressional candidates in Kansas about the anti-transgender resolution. Almost none of them replied to requests for comment.
The resolution echoes “bathroom bills” that have been introduced by Republicans in the Kansas legislature. These discriminatory measures would require public school students to use the restroom that corresponds with the the gender they were assigned at birth, said Tom Witt, executive director of the LGBTQ rights group, Equality Kansas.
“The Kansas Republican Party adopted a hateful anti-science, anti-trans policy that demeans and dehumanizes transgender Kansans, particularly transgender children,” Witt said in a statement. “Equality Kansas is incredibly disappointed that Kansas Republicans, on a day they should be focused on protecting children, promote such an undignified and crass assault.”
Eric Teetsel, president of the Family Policy Alliance of Kansas and the son-in-law of former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R), said he proposed the resolution as an act of “love,” yet the message it sends to transgender youth is loud and clear, Nicholson said.
“So the Kansas GOP recognizes the dignity of LGBT Kansans, but not enough to allow them to live as their authentic selves?” Nicholson said. “Do they know how brave a child has to be to come out to their parents that they are transgender? Then how brave the child and parents must be together to come out to a community? And on top of that, how frightening it is to read the new Republican resolution?”
The Republican resolution passed on a voice vote, but it came on the heels of a debate about the party’s priorities in which committee members voiced concerns over the proposal.
“I agree with the affirmation of only two sexes, but I will say if there were a bill proposed at the state or federal level that bans the expression of gender identity, I would oppose that bill as it violates an individual’s right to live their life how they see fit,” Matt Bevens, Republican candidate for representative of Kansas’ 2nd Congressional District, told Rewire. “What someone does with their body is their own decision, and I may disagree with them but will defend their right to do live how they see fit.”
Bevens said he plans to focus his campaign on issues he considers to be more pressing, such as the national debt and human trafficking.
Jim Barnett, a Republican candidate for Kansas governor, voiced concerns over the anti-transgender resolution, particularly the language opposing efforts to “surgically or hormonally alter one’s bodily identity.”
“Those choices should be between the individual and their health care provider,” Barnett told Rewire. “When I’m governor of Kansas, I will not discriminate against any individual.”
Ten other Kansas Republican candidates for Congress, including incumbents Reps. Kevin Yoder, Roger Marshall, and Ron Estes, did not respond to interview requests from Rewire. Ten other gubernatorial candidates for governor, along with Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer (R), also did not respond to requests for comment.
Nicholson used to identify as a Republican and was heavily involved in local politics for most of her life. She said today she feels lost as her social views, especially concerning LGBTQ rights, have alienated her from the party.
“Kansas is hard for someone like me, and in western Kansas it’s terribly hard some days to be the parent of a transgender child,” she said. “I believe that someday in my lifetime we will look back at these years and be embarrassed that we treated the LGBT community with anything other than full equality and affirmation.”