Kansas elected a transgender woman to the state legislature Tuesday, marking a first not just for Kansas, but for the entire Midwest.
Democrat Stephanie Byers, a 57-year-old retired high school band teacher, won the District 86 Kansas House seat with 54.4% of the vote, according to unofficial results reported by The Wichita Eagle. District 86 contains portions of Wichita.
“We’ve made history here,” Byers said of the outcome, which remains preliminary and contingent upon ballots that were postmarked by Tuesday. “We’ve done something in Kansas most people thought would never happen, and we did it with really no push-back, by just focusing on the issues.”
Byers told The Wichita Eagle that one of the reasons behind the decision to run was the feeling of frustration as a teacher when state representatives would cut school funding. “I didn’t really have much time outside of my class to be able to stand up and say, ‘Hey, this isn’t right,’” Byers said. “And so when I retired, that’s one of the things that kind of percolated around in my head.”
Byers worked as a teacher for 29 years at Wichita’s North High School before coming out as transgender in 2014, a move that was mostly met with support from members of his school community, The Wichita Eagle reported. In 2018, North High’s then-principal Sherman Padgett nominated Byers to receive an Educator of the Year award from the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, which Byers won.
“I’m anxious for her to serve. I think she’ll bring a different perspective, one that represents Wichitans and folks that just haven’t had a voice before,” Byers added.
The LGBTQ Victory Fund said in a statement:
Today LGBTQ Victory Fund endorsed candidate Stephanie Byers won her election, becoming the first out transgender person ever elected to the Kansas state House and the first out trans person of color ever elected to a state legislature in the U.S. She will also become just the third openly LGBTQ person ever elected to the Kansas state legislature – with state Reps. Susan Ruiz and Brandon Woodard being the first in 2018. Byers is one of five non-incumbent openly trans state legislative candidates on the ballot tonight. Currently there are just four out trans state legislators in the entire country.
“Stephanie shattered a lavender ceiling in Kansas and its impact will reverberate well beyond the borders of the state,” said Mayor Annise Parker, who is president & CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund. “Her victory will inspire more trans people to run for office because they see it is possible and understand these candidates are transforming how America perceives them. While cynical politicians attempted to weaponize trans issues for political gain this cycle, Stephanie’s victory is a powerful reminder that most voters reject the politics of bigotry and will elect trans people who have a positive vision for their communities.”