Razer’s Edge: Meet the Missouri Senator who is “optimistic that we’ve hit rock bottom” when it comes to LGBTQIA+ rights

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Missouri Senator Greg Razer. // Photo by Zach Bauman

Greg Razer knew when he stood up on the floor of the Missouri Senate on a Thursday in March that he could not prevent an act of great harm.

The Senate was about to vote to ban doctors in the state from performing gender-affirming surgeries or prescribing certain hormones and puberty-blocking drugs for youths. The bill would pass; Razer had no illusions about that. In a legislative chamber where Republicans outnumber Democrats 24 to 10, the bad stuff almost always passes. 

But words still matter, and the Democratic senator from Kansas City had plenty to say.

His opening salvo was directed at Republicans. 

“The party of small government is now telling parents what to do,” he said. “You are now the party of big government and government overreach, and I hope you realize that.”

He thanked his fellow Democrats for helping to filibuster the bill until its Republican sponsors agreed to some concessions that made it a little less terrible. He apologized to the parents of transgender youth for the lies and accusations they’d had to endure.

He called out gay, lesbian, and bisexual Missourians for complacency. 

“I didn’t see enough of you in the halls of the Capitol during this fight,” he said. “So I am telling you now—it is time to wake up and rise up and fight against this next attack against who we are as human beings.”

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Greg Razer. // Photo by Zach Bauman

“I’m sorry your government is doing this to you.”

Four years ago, The Pitch profiled Razer when, as a member of the Missouri House, he fought for LGBTQ+ equality. Razer grew up as a closeted gay kid in Cooter, Missouri—a farm town in the Bootheel.

“I know today, in every single House district in the state, there is some teenager thinking about ending their life because they don’t see a way that they can ever come out and be happy,” he said then. “I will fight for them as hard as I can.”

Back then, Razer was trying to coax the legislature to pass a law that would prevent employers, landlords, and others from discriminating against people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

He’s still working on that. But his job has become much darker and more urgent. 

The Republican supermajority that controls state government has not fixed the state’s crumbling roads, adequately funded schools, or worked for better health outcomes for Missourians. Rather, it has fixated on expanding gun rights and banning abortions. But those missions are pretty much accomplished, and to be a Missouri Republican is meaningless without a wedge issue.

And so the party has zeroed in on—as Razer puts it—“a small number of misunderstood children” and their families—transgender youth.

First, they wanted to keep them from using the school bathrooms that aligned with their gender identity. Then they focused on keeping transgender girls from playing women’s sports.

Republicans in the Senate told Razer they would never go so far as to interfere with the medical care the youth were receiving. This year they did. In speeches on the Senate floor, they accuse the parents of transgender kids of child abuse. Razer worries about what next year will bring. 

In his speech before the March 23 vote, he spoke directly to transgender kids. 

“I’m sorry that your government is doing this to you,” he said. “I’m sorry I couldn’t do more to protect you.”

Razer and fellow Democrats filibustered the bill until Republicans agreed to allow youth currently receiving gender-affirming care to continue doing so and to allow the ban to expire in four years. But Razer acknowledged that some young people will not be able to access care in Missouri if the bill becomes law. 

“I hope you live close enough to a border and your family has the resources to get you across a state line to receive the care you need,” he said. 

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Greg Razer’s belt buckle. // Photo by Zach Bauman

A broadside attack

Razer escaped his closeted existence in the Bootheel by enrolling at the University of Missouri’s Columbia campus. That was where he came out as a gay man and represented Mizzou as Truman the Tiger, the school mascot. And he majored in history.

History is foundational for Razer. He knows how the events of Missouri’s past shaped the state into what it is today. He has studied the milestones of LGBTQ+ equality, and he keeps in touch with historians around the country.

Not surprisingly, Razer turned to history in his remarks on the Senate floor.

 “The forces in this nation that sow bigotry and hatred and division, they’ve come after us many times,” he said. “And like today, they always win the first few battles, but never, ever, have they beaten us in a war. And this today is a declaration of war on our community. And just like every other time, we will win in the end.”

Were it not for what came next, Razer’s remarks should have served as consolation and inspiration for the people whose rights were about to be mauled by the Senate’s Republican majority. 

What came next was a four-minute speech by Bill Eigel, a senator from St. Charles County with aspirations of winning the Republican nomination for governor.

“I just witnessed something that I thought I would never see,” Eigel said. “And that is, a member of this body calling for adults to mutilate children by leaving the borders of this state to avoid the protections that we are about to institute in this state to protect the most vulnerable among us.”

It was a broadside attack on a fellow senator, breathtakingly uncivil and cruel. But when I ask Razer about it, he shrugs it off.

“I was turned in my chair, watching,” he says. “I don’t know how good my poker face was. Because that was ridiculous, that was a campaign stunt. By the next morning, they had turned that into a gubernatorial Facebook ad. That’s all that was.”

The way Razer sees it, most of the uproar over transgender people in Missouri and elsewhere is performative. That’s why he worked so hard to get a sunset amendment into the Senate bill; he figures that when the ban expires in four years, the right-wing will have moved onto some other cause.  

But in the meantime, Razer has to maintain somewhat collegial relationships in order to have any impact in the Senate.

He says he works well with “virtually all” of the Republicans. He genuinely likes some of them. 

One of Razer’s friends is Holly Thompson Rehder, a Republican senator whose district encompasses parts of southeast Missouri, not far from where Razer grew up. Thompson Rehder has detailed her climb out of a hardscrabble childhood in a memoir titled “Cinder Girl,” while Razer has spoken candidly about feeling suicidal in high school because of the denial of his sexuality.

“I joke with her all the time,” Razer says. “I tell her, ‘Holly, when you stand up, I know I’m going to either agree 100 percent or I’m going to disagree 100 percent. But we’ve kind of bonded, both of us being from Southeast Missouri. I have a lot of respect for her.”

That works both ways, Thompson Rehder tells The Pitch. “Greg is really good about communicating,” she says. “We can have a conversation. We can disagree on 80% of it and still have a very productive conversation because that’s Greg.”

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Greg Razer. // Photo by Zach Bauman

Protecting kids and respecting government

Daniel Bogard, a rabbi from St. Louis, figures he’s driven to Jefferson City 40 or 50 times since Republicans started targeting transgender kids a few years ago. Sometimes he takes his son, a trans child who is now 9 so that lawmakers can get a look at exactly who they are harming.

On those trips, the boy always asks to see the senator he calls “Razer.” 

“There have been these moments where Greg has looked at my son and said, ‘I know this is scary, but I promise that I will protect you,’” Bogard says. “My son thinks it’s cool. I start crying.”

One day last session Daniel Bogard was about to talk to a Republican lawmaker. He didn’t want his son to overhear. 

“They often say such hurtful, awful, violent things in those meetings,” Bogard said. 

Razer stepped in: “I’ll take him with me.”

Later, Bogard received a text of a photo. His beaming son was seated at the dais in the front of the Senate. 

“It’s one of the things that Greg does,” Bogard says. “He makes sure these kids who are being abused by their government come to Jefferson City and also are celebrated. It’s a little bit magical.”

Razer has already told me about that day. 

“I was thinking, ‘I do not want this kid to leave this building thinking this is a place where bad people are doing bad things,” he says. 

He was showing the boy his desk when he noticed a Republican senator whom he considers a friend, Lincoln Hough from Springfield, at the dais. 

“I texted him and asked if we could come up,” Razer recounts. 

Hough, who votes with the Republican majority in favor of restricting rights and care for transgender children, lifted the boy up and showed him how to push the buttons that indicate when a senator can speak.

“He gets to run the Senate for a minute,” Razer says. “He’s the cutest kid you ever saw, by the way.”

Someone snapped a photo of Razer and the boy that day. It’s now blown up, poster size, in the child’s bedroom.

“Most kids have Superman or Spiderman on their wall,” Bogard says. “My son has a picture of Greg Razer.”

What’s striking about that story isn’t just Razer’s determination to protect a child; it’s his wish to preserve some respect for the Missouri government.

“The next generation has to believe that good government is still possible, that the republic still works. That good people can be involved,” Razer says. “I’m not religious. That’s not who I am. But that building and those traditions…they hold that sort of value to me.”

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Greg Razer talks with worker at a local market. // Photo by Zach Bauman

Missouri at a crossroads

Razer and I meet at a Waldo coffee shop on a Friday afternoon in April. He orders his coffee extra strong. He’s been to a ceremonial function in the morning, then attended the Downtown Council’s annual luncheon and met with Gov. Mike Parson’s nominee for the Board of Police Commissioners. 

Razer enjoys those parts of his job. He loves representing Kansas City and thinks it’s on a roll.

While we talked, he was fielding calls and texts from media outlets inside and outside of Missouri. The day before, Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey issued an executive order that, if carried out, would basically stop most gender-affirming care in the state, even for adults. And the Missouri House had passed a bill restricting transgender health care that was even more restrictive than the Senate’s. 

In a better world, Razer says, he wouldn’t be the go-to senator to push back against this assault on LGBTQ+ rights. He’d like to be having intellectual debates on the Senate floor with Holly Thompson Rehder and Lincoln Hough about things like rebuilding Interstate 70 and keeping schools open five days a week. 

“And what have we done this year?” he asks. “We tried to ban Black history, or at least thinking too deeply about it. And we beat up on trans kids.”

Next year, Razer plans to run for a second four-year term. That would give him five more years in the Missouri Senate. 

Razer thinks that period will be crucial. If the group of anti-government legislators that calls itself the “conservative caucus” grows in size and influence, and if they are joined by a governor even more reactionary than Parson, “then truly facts don’t matter,” Razer says. “We don’t care if the government keeps its doors open or not.”

On the other hand, five years is long enough for sanity to make a partial comeback. 

“I’m optimistic that we’ve hit rock bottom,” Razer says.

Optimism is an elusive commodity for outnumbered Democrats in the Missouri Senate. To preserve his, Razer turns—of course—to history. 

Let’s go back to that speech on the Senate floor. At the conclusion, Razer spoke to transgender Missourians. What their government was doing was horrible, he said. But the history of the gay rights movement shows that attempts to marginalize groups ultimately open the door to acceptance.

“People were sitting around the dinner table last night talking about who transgender Missourians are and what their rights should be,” he says. “And the more people talk, the more people begin to humanize you. The day will come when this vote is another stain on our state. But tomorrow, you and I will be proud Missourians.” 

All photos by Zach Bauman

Categories: Politics