Kansas' Only LGBT Congressmember Would Lose Her Seat With GOP Redistricting

The only openly LGBTQ person ever elected to Congress from Kansas is at risk of losing her seat under a Republican redistricting plan that critics say would dilute the voting power of the state's minority populations.

Kansas Democratic Representative Sharice Davids faces a difficult reelection path under the GOP's redistricting map that would split her Kansas City-based district with more rural and conservative areas. Like other redistricting plans in Republican-controlled states, the map is being challenged in court. The outcome of this legal fight and others could determine what Congress looks like following the 2022 midterm elections.

"We are seeing these anti-LGBTQ forces trying to erase out representation," Cesar Toledo, deputy political director of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, told LGBTQ Nation.

Earlier this month, Kansas Governor Laura Kelly vetoed the redrawn districts approved by the GOP-controlled Legislature following the 2020 Census. Kelly, a Democrat, said the maps ignored longstanding "communities of interest" while violating legal guidelines ensuring that the redistricting process doesn't dilute "minority communities' voting strength."

Rep. Sharice Davids Speaking
Representative Sharice Davids, the first openly gay member of Congress from Kansas, faces a difficult reelection under redrawn political boundaries. Above, Davids speaks during an event with House Democrats and other climate activists to highlight the aspects of the Build Back Better Act that focus on combating climate change in the Rayburn Room at the U.S. Capitol on September 28, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

After the Republican Legislature overrode her veto, the redrawn maps were challenged in court by the ACLU of Kansas. The lawsuit, filed in state district court, points out that the GOP's map would put the northern half of Kansas City, a Democratic stronghold, in Kansas' second congressional district and the southern half in the state's third congressional district.

Wyandotte County, the state's only majority-minority county that includes a large portion of Kansas City would be split in two for the first time in 40 years, according to the lawsuit.

"If we want to preserve our democracy, we cannot allow the voices of Black and Brown voters to be silenced by the Kansas GOP," Davids said in a fundraising email earlier this month that was obtained by The Kansas City Star.

Ben Meers, executive director of the Kansas Democratic Party, told Newsweek in an email that the map is "textbook gerrymandering."

But Kansas House Speaker Ron Ryckman told Newsweek in a statement that the map passed by the Legislature "ensures that every county is fairly represented."

"Democrats only want to talk about one county," he said. "The truth is there are 16 racially diverse counties in Kansas. The Republican map - just like the map proposed by Democrats - keeps 15 of those counties whole and divides 1 to accommodate for population increases."

First elected to Kansas' third congressional district in 2018, Davids is the state's first openly gay member of Congress. Along with Deb Haaland, she is the first Native American woman elected to Congress. She's also currently the only Democratic member of the state's congressional delegation.

Previously, Davids voted for election reform legislation intended to prevent state lawmakers from drawing electoral maps for partisan gain. However, the legislation stalled in the Senate after Republicans filibustered it.

Tom Alonzo, state board chairman of LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Kansas, signed on to the lawsuit last week. A statement from the group announcing it was joining the lawsuit referenced Davids' election.

"Representation matters," the group said in the statement. "Throughout our nation's history, minority and marginalized populations have struggled to claim their places at the tables of governance. Through their participation, they have helped pave the way for those they represent to more fully integrate into American society and to share in the American dream."

Newsweek has reached out to Davids and state Republican legislative leaders for comment.

Update (2/24, 9:45 p.m.): This story has been updated to include comment from Kansas House Speaker Ron Ryckman and the state Democratic Party.