I take a lot of pride in my identity and accomplishments throughout my 21 years of life. I’m a Black queer man from Kansas who is about to graduate from the illustrious Howard University during a global health emergency. You don’t meet someone like me every day.
After Gov. Sam Brownback’s tenure, I was honored to vote for Laura Kelly in 2018. I was overjoyed as a Kansan the day she took office and executed her first act as governor: signing an executive order reinstating protection from discrimination for LGBTQ+ state employees, which Brownback had rescinded.
This was an important moment for me because before that executive order, I had often told folks that if my partner Brandon and I were to get married over the weekend, I could be fired that Monday if I worked serving my state and my boss was a homophobe. Luckily, as soon as she took office, Kelly proved her commitment to ensuring that the LGBTQ+ community was protected under the law in Kansas. Now, more than ever, am I looking for her to step up and veto Senate Bill 55.
Across the country, many state legislatures are pushing legislation bankrolled by bigoted special interest groups to discriminate against trans kids. Unfortunately, one of these bills has passed in Kansas. SB 55 is a piece of unpopular legislation that is seeking to prevent transgender kids from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity.
Trans rights are civil rights — and Kansas has historically shown support for underrepresented populations, all the way back to the days of Bleeding Kansas. Americans overwhelmingly do not support discrimination against trans people. New polling from Public Broadcasting Service’s NewsHour, NPR and Marist Poll has found that 67% of Americans are against state legislation that discriminates against transgender rights, including preventing trans kids from participating in sports based on their gender identity. Another poll from Hart Research and the Human Rights Campaign found that 73% of respondents agree that “sports are important in young people’s lives. Young transgender people should be allowed opportunities to participate in a way that is safe and comfortable for them.”
If bigots with money weren’t so concerned about limiting the freedom of trans kids, I would not have to write about discriminatory legislation such as SB 55.
These sorts of discriminatory laws would inevitably take economic opportunity and business away from Kansas. Having a chance to host a World Cup game would be an honor — but transphobic legislation could stop that from happening. Not only would a World Cup game bring business to Kansas, but it would also be another reminder that Kansas is a place that reflects, represents and supports diversity, equity and inclusion. The impact of legislation like SB 55 would put a stain on Kansas that encourages people not to do business in a state that chooses to support biased laws.
Anyone who has pride in being a Kansan should vote against this bill and refuse to push any further legislation that seeks to discriminate against trans Kansans. I want to be clear: Transphobia is unacceptable and it should have no place in our Legislature or society.
Gov. Kelly, please veto SB 55. Members of the Kansas House and Senate, drop wasting your time on discriminatory legislation like this and get back to looking for solutions that will support the people in our state who have been hit hardest by the pandemic. As elected officials in Kansas, you should have enough pride in your state to uphold civil rights — not to push unconscionable legislation such as SB 55.
Michael Franklin of Kansas City, Kansas served a two-year tenure as vice president for external affairs with Howard University’s Coalition of Activist Students Celebrating the Acceptance of Diversity and Equality, the largest LGBTQ+ organization at any historically black college or university. He is co-founder of the annual As Queer As It Is Black Conference.