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Lawyers help trans Kansans change gender markers on legal documents before ban takes effect

Closeup photo of a cardboard sign in a crowd that reads "Trans and Proud."
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
A protester in Kansas City carries a sign with students from Crossroads Preparatory Academy on April 13, 2022 who walked out of class to protest anti-LGBTQ bills in the Missouri legislature.

Under a recent anti-LGBTQ law passed by the Kansas Legislature, transgender residents will be prohibited from changing the sex on their driver’s licenses and other official documents. When the law takes effect July 1, lawyers and advocates say it could lead to harassment and discrimination.

LAWRENCE — A small group of protesters rattled the door of the library auditorium, trying to get in as an LGBTQ rights lawyer informed transgender Kansans what protections and resources they need to lock down before a wide-ranging transgender bathroom ban goes into effect in July.

“We’re trying to do triage care as lawyers right now, as trans rights lawyers,” said attorney Ellen Bertels, with Kansas Legal Services. “We’re doing emergency room care. So that means where is it bleeding, how do we stop the bleeding?”

Bertels advocates for transgender, nonbinary and gender-diverse folks around the state. She’s felt increased urgency in recent months, after the Legislature debated and passed several bills targeting the transgender community. At the Wednesday night gender marker clinic, her voice was hoarse after days of explaining how to change gender markers.

While the wording of Senate Bill 180, a wide-ranging “bathroom bill” recently made law, is ambiguous, Bertels said transgender Kansans who need to get their gender markers changed on legal documents should act before the state’s new anti-trans laws go into effect July 1.

Bertels said the scope of the bill is unclear, but based on her understanding of its language, she believes it’s likely that the state will no longer change gender markers on state documents after July. Bertels views gender markers as a safety measure; having IDs that don’t reflect a person’s gender identity could lead to unintentional outing, with the person at risk of harassment or discrimination.

“We can’t necessarily forecast what each individual agency or county is going to do to respond, but my method has been advising folks on worst case scenarios so they can prepare for that, and if it goes better than that, maybe there’s a bright spot in their day,” Bertels said.

Packets explaining the gender marker change process were set out for transgender Kansans during a May 17, 2023 gender marker clinic.
Rachel Mipro
Kansas Reflector)
Packets explaining the gender marker change process were set out for transgender Kansans during a May 17, 2023 gender marker clinic.

SB 180 also bans individuals who are born without the ability to produce eggs for reproduction from using women’s restrooms, locker rooms and other gender-specific areas.

The legislation applies to athletics, prison facilities, domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers, locker rooms, restrooms and “other areas where biology, safety or privacy are implicated that result in separate accommodations.”

It is one of several bills targeting transgender Kansans passed by the state Legislature in recent months. Kansas became the 20th state to pass a transgender student athlete ban into law in April, with transgender girls now blocked from playing women’s sports from kindergarten through college.

Civil rights organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas continue to monitor the legislation.

“We are deeply concerned about the potential harm SB 180 will cause, and while I cannot comment specifically on the potential for the ACLU of Kansas to bring litigation, I can say we are continuing to track developments related to SB 180 and are considering all available avenues for advocacy,” said DC Hiegert, LGBTQ+ Fellow of the ACLU of Kansas.

Marc Veloz, who works with community outreach at the Lawrence Public Library and helped collaborate on the event, said the library was committed to remaining a safe place for members of the LGBTQ community.

“I hope that members of our community know that queer identities are kind of reflected in different facets of the library in our staffing, in our collections and in our programs and events,” Veloz said. “I want folks to know that the library is a space where they can see themselves reflected in all of those different places.”

At the clinic, attorneys and law students passed out forms explaining how to change birth certificates, driver’s licenses and other documents. Grayson Kassius Andersen, a transgender lawyer there to help people make document changes, said this year had been particularly difficult.

“I’m contemplating leaving Kansas every day,” Andersen said. “People don’t realize the implications of legislation is that it iterates the bad opinions and that hatred is okay.”

Halsey Yankey, a clinic attendee who blocked a protester’s sign with her skirt, said she was there because she was worried about the effect SB 180 will have on accessing her gender-affirming care.

“Originally I was really skeptical about it because I figured this is a hunt you down tactic later, but I’m also scared they’ll rip away my HRT if I don’t do it now,” Yankey said.

Seventeen-year-old Gwen Bishop, who is planning to update gender markers as soon as possible, had one message for lawmakers.

“Please,” Bishop said. “Stop making it harder.”

This story was originally published by the Kansas Reflector.

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