KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When Kansas Rep. Stephanie Byers was elected to the Kansas State House of Representatives, the Wichita democrat made history as the first openly transgender lawmaker in the legislature.
"You might see a bumper sticker somewhere, but it's a very true statement that if you don't have a seat at the table you'll be on the menu," Byers said.
Byers was elected in Nov. 2020, and recently finished her first session in the legislature.
Her voice and vote has been heard on several issues, including a bill that would've banned transgender athletes from participating in girls' and womens' sports in Kansas.
"The number of folks that came and spoke with me that asked me to help them understand the trans perspective on this, you know they're from the other side of the aisle," Byers said. "They went ahead and voted for it, but at the same time it gave me that opportunity to get that education and perhaps the next time it comes around they would remember that when they're talking about doing this type of legislation, it's not just some ambiguous somebody somewhere. You know it's not just a number and a percentage, it actually is somebody."
Before politics, Byers was an educator for nearly 30 years in Wichita. She publicly came out as transgender in 2014.
"I spent most of my life hiding who I was, and part of it was the fear of what would happen when people found out who I really was," Byers said. "'Would they reject me or not?' And to be enwrapped in that much love and care, and people just there to say 'We support you, we know you and we lift you up,'" Byers said.
The Wichita state lawmaker explained community support made her realize she couldn't sit on the sidelines of major issues impacting LGBTQ+ rights.
With her success, Byers hopes young trans people see a future for themselves.
"There are people who make this and do this successfully," Byers said. "And you can walk in those same footsteps."