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Lawrence declares itself a transgender safe haven and says it will not follow new Kansas law

Closeup photo of a person's hands holding a blue, pink and white-striped sign that reads "Protect Trans Kids."
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
A protester in Kansas City marches with students from Crossroads Preparatory Academy on April 13, 2022 who walked out of class to protest anti-LGBTQ bills in the Missouri legislature.

Lawrence, Kansas, will defy the state’s new requirement to force people to use gender-specific areas, such as restrooms, that don't align with their gender identity. The unanimous vote comes just a few months after the Kansas City Council made a similar declaration.

In a unanimous vote, the Lawrence City Commission has passed an ordinance declaring the city a safe haven “for all persons seeking shelter from the adversity of discrimination, in all its forms, including those persons affected by Senate Bill 180.”

The ordinance addresses a person’s sex or gender as they identify and does not require people to identify with their sex assigned at birth. In contrast, Kansas Senate Bill 180, which became law on July 1, defines a person’s sex as “biological sex, either male or female, at birth.”

Lawrence will not be following the state’s requirement to force people to use gender-specific areas, such as restrooms, with their gender assigned at birth.

The ordinance approved Tuesday passed quickly, and on the first read. Activist group “NO SB 180” worked with city attorneys to create the ordinance, which is now in effect only 18 days after Senate Bill 180 became law.

Supporters acknowledged the ordinance may be contested by the state but believe that if the issue was brought to the Kansas Supreme Court that SB180 would be declared unconstitutional.

In early May, Kansas City approved a similar resolution. Kansas City’s resolution was specific to Missouri’s anti-trans bills, which banned gender-affirming care for minors and those on Medicaid, as well as banned transgender kids from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity.

Justice Horn, the chair of the LGBTQ Commission of Kansas City and supporter of the Kansas City resolution, appeared at the meeting in Lawrence to express his support.

“There are a lot of similarities from Missouri to Kansas with our attorney generals and our state legislators pushing so hard that they want to snuff out our trans siblings,” Horn said. “I think our cities and our counties need to be at the forefront of that fight.”

Kansas City had to pass a resolution, compared to an ordinance, because the city does not have control over its police department — though the Kansas City Police Department has expressed its support.

Lawrence was able to pass an ordinance because they have control over their police department. The language in the ordinance includes “the city, its public officials, officers, employees, agents or contractors.”

Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez has previously stated: “Let me be clear. My office’s prosecutorial resources will not be used to prosecute anyone under SB 180.”

The room was filled with supporters of the Lawrence ordinance. Eight teary-eyed testimonies were made in support, including one from the First Presbyterian Church, an attorney, transgender people and cisgender allies.

“It makes me sad that we have to do this,” said Lawrence Mayor Lisa Larson. “Because people just want to live their lives and be left alone. This SB180 is nothing but fear and confusion. That’s all it is.”

This story was originally published on Flatland, a fellow member of the KC Media Collective.

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