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Kansas’ new law requires state agencies undo official recognition of trans residents’ drivers licenses, birth certificates, attorney general says


Suzanne Wheeler doesn’t want to symbolize a movement. She just wants to live as a trans woman in Kansas as she has for the past eight years: unapologetically herself – and with the official documents to prove it.

But now Wheeler wonders if that’s even possible, given a new state law requiring Kansas agencies to stop recognizing trans residents’ gender identity on basic public records. It takes effect Saturday.

“What kind of risk would that put me at?” said Wheeler, a retired US Army colonel and grandmother.

The law requires the sex designation on Kansas driver’s licenses and birth certificates to reflect a person’s sex at birth, the state’s Republican attorney general said in a legal opinion Monday, years after Kansas – as part of a 2019 federal equal protection lawsuit settlement – began allowing birth certificates to be changed to reflect a person’s gender identity.

Now, Senate Bill 180 – dubbed the “Kansas Women’s Bill of Rights” – mandates “an individual’s ‘sex’ means such individual’s biological sex, either male or female, at birth,” Kris Kobach said in the legal opinion; he issued it in response to a GOP state legislator’s inquiry about the impact of “the 2023 law requiring state records reflect biological sex,” he told CNN this week.

State records include school documents and records of state departments and agencies.

The definition also applies to state regulation of public restrooms, locker rooms and athletics, plus prisons, domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers, the legislation states.

While many US states have expanded gender identifier options on public documents, some states in recent months also have enacted laws – some with potential felony charges – targeting transgender women, men and children from restricting restroom use and access to gender-affirming care to banning certain pronoun usage and limiting participation in same-gender sports.

In Kansas, “a birth certificate is a record of what happened at the moment a baby came out of the womb,” Kobach said in a news release announcing his legal opinion. “Similarly, a driver’s license is a state document reflecting a state database for state purposes. It is not a canvas on which a person can paint one’s expression and preferences.”

The attorney general last week also asked a federal district court to nullify the 2019 equal protection judgment, a move the lead Lambda Legal attorney on the case called “another unnecessary and cruel move to target the transgender community with animus and discrimination for political gain.”

But to Wheeler – and perhaps hundreds of other Kansans who in recent years have changed gender labels on birth certificates and driver’s licenses – having her gender identity on those documents reflects far more than ink on paper.

Kansas GOP Attorney General Kris Kobach speaks Monday about the new law.

“Bottom line, it is Kansas trying to erase who I am the past eight years,” Wheeler said. “I have lived as the person that I am and not just lived but really donated to the society and supported the folks around me as the person that I am.

“And despite all that, they want to erase me.”

Under the new law – which Kansas’ Democratic governor vetoed in April before an override by the Republican-dominated Legislature – residents don’t have to surrender driver’s licenses that don’t conform, Kobach wrote in his legal opinion. But such a document’s sex marker would have to change upon renewal to reflect the holder’s sex at birth.

The law also requires the state Health Department to restore any birth certificate “previously modified … to list a sex other than the person’s biological sex at birth … to its original form,” the legal opinion states.

But it’s not clear what happens if residents – or key state agencies administered by Gov. Laura Kelly – don’t comply.

“I have directed the agencies to follow SB 180 according to their legal counsel’s interpretation of the law,” Kelly said in a statement to CNN Thursday. “While my administration and the Attorney General’s Office have had many conversations about the law, Kansas Department of Health and Environment and Kansas Department of Revenue disagree about its impacts on their operations and will instead keep in place their policies regarding gender markers on birth certificates and driver’s licenses.”

At least 912 Kansas residents have changed the gender marker on their birth certificate since the 2019 lawsuit settlement, the state Health Department told CNN, noting the figures include amendments due to errors made by the provider at birth, intersex infants originally registered as unknown and gender identity changes.

Meanwhile, at least 161 people have changed their gender identity marker on their driver’s licenses this year alone, the Kansas Revenue Department told CNN, in addition to 233 people who did so between 2019 and last December.

Like Wheeler, Hazel Krebs considered fleeing Kansas over the new law, too. A 41-year-old Nebraska transplant, Krebs moved her family to Kansas in 2016 as she battled depression, anxiety and substance abuse, she said.

“I actually came out as gay when I ended my marriage five years ago, and that ended up not being who I am. And I struggled with identity for much of my life,” she said. “When I came out as Hazel and I transitioned, it changed everything.

“I was so happy with who I am,” she told CNN. “I was excited just to be alive, excited for the day.”

Hazel Krebs struggled with depression and substance abuse before she came out as trans, she said.

Krebs made it legal in early 2022, when she changed her driver’s license. It required a lot of paperwork, she said, but after living most of her life unsure of who she was, it was worth it.

“I wish more people could have this,” she said. “It’s not a trans thing to be happy with who you are.”

Now, Krebs – who could move to get away from the new Kansas law – wants to stay and use her privilege to fight so others can have the option, too, while holding out hope she can hold on to the gender marker of her choice when she has to renew her Kansas driver’s license in February, she said.

“Yes, it’s a piece of paper,” she said, referring more broadly to driver’s licenses and birth certificates. “But it’s also allowing an environment of discrimination and bias that has real consequences on mental health.”

Wheeler, who came out around 2014, had the gender marker changed the following year on her driver’s license, passport, name change record and Social Security documentation, she said. Her birth certificate is from Illinois, she said, and Kansas law at the time didn’t hinder her.

She retired in 2016 after 32 years in the US Army, and that July – two days after the ban on transgender military service members was lifted – she had the gender marker on her military documents changed, as well, she said.

Since 2014, Wheeler has been using women’s restrooms without any issues, she said. But now, SB 180 has her thinking twice, even perhaps about moving away – to another state or maybe even another country.

Away from her children. Her grandchildren. A job she loves.

“How many challenges is that going to cost me as I travel, as I move throughout the state?” she said. “What happens if I do go into a bathroom and somebody goes, ‘Hey, wait, this tall woman has a baritone voice, and I think she’s trans,’ and I get the police called on me.”

“My biggest concern is SB 180, addresses a nonissue and puts an already vulnerable population at risk,” Wheeler added, “places me personally at risk.”

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