April 8, 2023

Extremists in the Kansas legislature have introduced a staggering 12 anti-LGBTQ+ bills this legislative session. This week, they passed Senate Bill 180, the so-called “women’s bill of rights,” because they’re concerned about women’s rights.

Sound fishy? It should. It’s not about women’s rights. It’s about discriminating against trans people. 

Sen. Renee Erickson, R-Wichita, introduced this bill that would require state agencies to define “women” and “men” based solely on their reproductive capabilities. In reality, SB 180 is just the latest effort to shock a small, shrinking and fearful electoral bloc by scapegoating an already vulnerable minority community of transgender people for political gain. Single-sex spaces aren’t in danger. This bill does nothing to protect women from discrimination truly affecting them, such as pay inequity, sexual violence or domestic violence. 

The bill provides “a meaning of biological sex for purposes of statutory construction.” Does that sound like a women’s rights issue?

Under this mask of disingenuous paternalism, SB180 is one of the most extreme efforts yet to erase transgender people’s ability to even exist in modern society, prohibiting them from accessing bathrooms or locker rooms or having a driver’s license that matches their gender. 

But Kansans aren’t asking for this. Instead, it’s national groups attacking the humanity of trans people that are driving this bill in Kansas and other states.

When Erickson’s fellow Wichita legislator Brenda Landwehr claimed this bill protects women’s rights, she sidestepped the bill’s real intention. 

“Women have fought for over 50 years to gain certain rights in this country,” Landwehr was quoted as saying in a news report. “And these rights are being eroded. I really wish people would not take it that we’re targeting another group of people.”

Well, people are funny that way. They tend not to like being attacked for who they are. 

On Tuesday, the bill cleared its final hurdle in the Kansas Senate and is now on Governor Kelly’s desk, with extremely small margins in both houses that point to possibly overriding Kelly’s expected veto. 

Now, if Erickson, Landwehr and other extremist legislators really cared about women’s rights, they would not have tried to pass a constitutional amendment denying women bodily autonomy last summer.

If they really cared about women’s rights, they’d ensure Kansas women had the support they needed to thrive. Instead, they’ve proposed SB 180 — a bill that could lead to dozens of domestic violence and rape crisis programs in Kansas losing federal funding, as the executive director of the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence warned.

Proponents of this bait-and-switch claim they are advocating for women’s rights — and assume Kansans will take them at face value, without thinking critically about how this bill would actually secure or advance the rights of women. They assume Kansans won’t see the farce here, won’t make the connections to lawmakers’ entire raft of bills restricting access to gender-affirming care and limiting trans students’ rights in schools.

And, if Erickson, Landwehr and others really want to support gender equity, there’s a huge opportunity that has been available for the past 100 years.
Lawmakers originally drafted the Equal Rights Amendment (“ERA”), in 1923 — a measure that said, “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

It passed Congress in 1972 but fell short of the three-fourths majority of states needed for ratification.

Kansas legislators can support the ERA if they’re truly serious about women’s rights.

But everyone — including those supporting SB 180 — understands that that won’t happen. Because there is a key word missing in the text of SB 180: