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Sunday, May 19, 2024
CommentaryGov & Politics

A lawmaker ejected and threatened transgender Kansans. Her hearing was a disgrace.

Rep. Brenda Landwehr: What you did to LGBTQ+ Kansans at your Thursday hearing in the Kansas Statehouse has no excuse.

Your committee was considering bills that would criminalize lifesaving care for children. The mere act of debating House Bill 2791 and House Bill 2792 harmed transgender kids across the state. A host of advocates and activists, parents and children, told you this through testimony and email messages, opinion columns and public speeches.

You didn’t listen.

Instead, you issued imperious orders. You expelled prominent LGBTQ+ advocates after one knocked over a water bottle, threatened speakers with capitol police, and cut off testimony that offended you.

You added to the abuse. You negated compassionate souls who were looking out for themselves and those they loved.

“It was more than unnecessary. It was shocking,” said Melissa Stiehler, advocacy director for youth voter engagement organization Loud Light, describing the ejection of one advocate.

A couple of folks used strong words in addressing you and your compatriots on the House Health and Human Services Committee. That’s because the bill you were hearing could lead to the deaths of their friends. They didn’t make that choice. You did. The least you could have done for these brave souls was to sit and listen, as you did when you allowed HB 2791 sponsor Rep. Ron Bryce, R-Coffeyville, to call gender reassignment surgery the equivalent of a lobotomy.

But you were too cowardly for that.

This isn’t a joke. This isn’t a show. The Kansas Statehouse doesn’t serve as a stage for you to preen and prattle and make demands of those you see as less than. You serve the people. As a Republican representing Wichita’s District 105, you owe the people better.

LGBTQ+ people have suffered unspeakable torture from the hands of people just like Landwehr for decades. Kansas criminal code still classifies gay intimacy as a misdemeanor. Law enforcement has often played a prominent role in enforcing hate. The fact that the representative would look to officers to do her dirty work shows that the old ways — the old familiar use of the state to enforce one person’s morality on another — run deep.

Watch ignominious moments from the hearing in the video below. You can witness the whole debate here.

With that preamble off my chest, let’s step back a moment.

LGBTQ+ advocates had prepared for this hearing. They submitted a flotilla of testimony and packed both the hearing room and an overflow space. Emotions, as you might expect, ran high. The situation called for a committee chair who mixed both empathy with those speaking and determination to move the hearing along.

In preparing this column, I spoke and corresponded with three people who sat in that room Thursday. They watched the chairwoman up close as she booted or silenced at least four LGBTQ+ advocates.

“The hearing started off very curt and with very vague instructions to attendees and conferees,” said Iridiscent Riffel, a transgender activist who has also written columns for Kansas Reflector. She was later ejected and threatened with a police escort for her testimony. “We were treated as if we were miscreants for simply attending a hearing that would determine our rights. We were told that any noise or disruption would end with us being kicked out.”

Riffel had attended a hearing Thursday morning in the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee and said there was little difference in the audience between the two. Yet Landwehr regularly interrupted the afternoon hearing and call for order.

“Landwehr was trying to create a problem that didn’t exist with an excuse to kick us out,” Riffel said. She added the chairwoman “was engaging in providing extra support to supporters of the bill, while shutting down speech by those in opposition of the bill, the very community that would be impacted.”

Taryn Jones works as the lobbyist for Equality Kansas, the state’s preeminent advocacy group for LGBTQ+ residents.

She was also one of those removed.

“At one point during the hearing, I picked up my water bottle and as I sat it down whispered something to the person sitting next to me,” Jones said. “Rep. Landwehr banged her gavel down and kicked us out saying that she had warned people in the committee room about disruptions. However, the people in the row in front and back of me hadn’t heard anything and seemed very confused by what was going on.”

She highlighted the central injustice of the entire affair: “I find it curious that out of the four-five people that Landwehr kicked out or silenced during the hearing, they were all people opposing the bill. How is this democratic? Well, it’s not. Does Landwehr really want the optics of kicking out the Equality Kansas Lobbyist for water and a whisper on a hearing to ban trans healthcare?”

Steihler watched as Bryce claimed that gender-affirming care somehow equated to lobotomies. Such a statement insulted all the transgender people in the room. Yet Landwehr never asked them to revise their testimony or leave. That testimony came alongside a mountain of “discredited studies and factually inaccurate statistics,” to use Steihler’s words.

As I’ve noted in this space before, all major medical groups and health care groups support gender-affirming care for those younger than 18.

Not one or two. Every one.

That doesn’t matter to Landwehr or those supporting these grotesque proposals. The chairwoman gave them a wide berth to demean, disparage and demonize the transgender people who showed up to defend their rights. She refused to allow the same rhetorical scrutiny of her committee.

“This bill claims that gender affirming care for minors is abusive, and proponents of it said that if legislators didn’t support this bill they were enabling this abuse,” Steihler said. “Yet when two transgender women from Kansas, Iridescent Riffel (a leader in Equality Kansas) and Jaelynn Abegg(Rep. Landwehr’s opponent in the upcoming election) said that it is proven through many peer reviewed studies and reports that bills like this cause an increase in depression and risk of suicide, and if you vote in favor of these bills then you will be responsible for that result, that was considered disparaging to members of the Legislature that haven’t even yet voted on these bills. The remainder of their testimony was shut down.”

I reached out to Landwehr for her take on the hearing. She didn’t respond.

If Kansas GOP leaders can do this to transgender youths, they will follow up by doing it to transgender adults. They will then target, as they have before, gay and lesbian and bisexual youths and adults. Those who somehow believe they can turn the “LGB” against the “TQ” in the “LGBTQ+” initialism don’t understand the history of this movement or the way the community works. Trans people and those crossing gender lines have always been part of the community, and an attack on any particular part of the community must be understood as an attack on everyone.

Think of it another way. Type 1 diabetics need insulin to survive. Would that House panel consider denying insulin to people under age 18 because they’re too young and impressionable? Would Rep. John Eplee, the Atchison Republican and physician who sat next to Landwehr, even countenance such a proposal?

Of course not.

So ask yourself why transgender kids don’t count the same as diabetic kids in the state of Kansas.

I can answer that question: She doesn’t care about the optics.

Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, threw several people opposed to anti-transgender bills out of a Kansas House hearing Thursday for supposedly violating her ground rules for decorum. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Loud Light’s Steihler watched the entire hearing from the room and corroborated both Jones’ and Riffel’s accounts.

“I did notice many anti-trans activists engage in more disruptive behavior than (the water bottle incident) without any reprimand from the chair, such as cell phones going off, general murmuring, or bringing their signs into the committee room to keep at their feet,” she said. “One bill proponent held up his sign and was asked to leave after Rep. Susan Ruiz pointed him out to Chair Landwehr, but returned to the committee room shortly after. That was the only enforcement of the chair’s rules on any proponent.”

A trans rights protest outside the Kansas Statehouse
A participant in the March 31, 2023, March for Queer and Trans Youth Autonomy at the Kansas Statehouse holds a sign that reads: “Make no mistake, they are killing us.” The demonstration was a response to legislative attacks on the LGBTQ community, including the ban on transgender athletes. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

The chairwoman has already done an immense amount of damage.

She has shattered a vase into a thousand pieces, and while that vase could be mended with enough time and attention, it will never look the same. She has wielded her power to punish transgender Kansans who showed up in good faith to participate in the democratic process. Even if those bills fail, Landwehr has betrayed hardworking Kansans in her zealous pursuit of culture warrior status.


The Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a certified listener, call 988.

Crisis Text Line is a texting service for emotional crisis support. To speak with a trained listener, text HELLO to 741741. It is free, available 24/7, and confidential.


However, she could still make a difference. From what I hear, leaders can hold informational hearings on just about any subject they like.

Landwehr could call an informational hearing on her own performance as chairwoman of the House Health and Human Services Committee. I’m sure that Riffel, Abegg, Jones and Steihler would be more than willing to share their thoughts. She needn’t only hear criticism, either. The chairwoman could hold a second day of hearings for those who want to praise her.

We didn’t have to be in this place. These bills didn’t have to be introduced. They didn’t have to be heard in committee. And the hearing didn’t have to be turned into a public embarrassment.

But here we are.

Landwehr owes those she kicked out the opportunity to confront her publicly. She should hear what her behavior meant to them, how she made them feel, and what her proposals mean for LGBTQ+ youths across the state of Kansas. She might even acknowledge the harm she caused.

Clay Wirestone is Kansas Reflector opinion editor. Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.

Excerpts or more from the article at: https://kansasreflector.com/2024/03/04/a-lawmaker-ejected-and-threatened-transgender-kansans-her-hearing-was-a-disgrace/, originally published on Kansas Reflector  appear in this post. Republished, with permission, under a Creative Commons License.

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