Kansas nears ban on transgender athletes in women's sports
The Kansas Legislature has given final approval to a ban and appears to have the votes to override Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly's expected veto.
TOPEKA — The Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature gave final approval Thursday to a ban on transgender athletes in girls' and women's sports, and it appears for now to have the votes to override the Democratic governor's expected veto.
The state Senate voted 28-11 to approve the bill, which would impose the ban for K-12, college and club sports, starting July 1. It next goes to Gov. Laura Kelly, as the state House approved it two weeks earlier on an 82-40 vote.
Kelly vetoed two previous versions of the ban. Republicans made it a major issue when she ran for reelection last year, focusing multiple television ads on it. While she won a narrow victory, supporters of a ban appeared to pick up just enough legislative seats to have the two-thirds majorities necessary in both chambers to override a veto.
If they are successful, Kansas would join at least 18 other states with laws limiting girls' and women's sports to athletes who had female anatomy at birth. The measure also is part of GOP conservatives' broader national campaign against transgender rights, which includes bans on gender-affirming care for minors, preventing transgender people from using facilities associated with their gender identities and blocking them from changing their driver's licenses and birth certificates.
“This is a really, really aggressive backlash — this sort of very pointed, very vicious attack on trans rights,” said Jenna Bellemere, a 19-year-old transgender woman and University of Kansas student. “It’s a backlash to the fact that the world is changing and it’s been changing for a very long time.”
Supporters of restricting transgender athletes argue that it's necessary to preserve fair competition. They also argue that allowing transgender athletes to compete costs cisgender girls and women scholarships and other opportunities, and undoes decades of progress against sex discrimination in sports.
Kansas officials and LGBTQ-rights advocates say only a handful of transgender youth participate in high school activities — and possibly only one trans Kansas girl is on a sports team. But backers of the bill argue that the state should act before transgender athletes become more prevalent.
Republican state Sen. Renee Erickson of Wichita, a former college basketball player, said that opponents of the bill don't seem concerned about the mental health of cisgender girls “who will be forced to undress” around transgender girls or women.
“I'm not willing to wait until a Kansas girl is put into this situation,” she said.
In the Senate, supporters on Thursday had one more vote than a two-thirds majority — the minimum needed to override Kelly's expected veto.
In the House, supporters need 84 votes for a two-thirds majority. While they had 82 votes last month, two Republicans were absent.
Last year, supporters appeared to be two votes short of a two-thirds majority in the House. But in last year's elections, three GOP freshmen who supported a ban replaced three Republicans who'd voted against overriding Kelly's veto last year.
“Who wouldn't vote for fairness in women's sports?” said state Rep. Carrie Barth, one of the three new Republicans, summarizing what she said were bipartisan comments in her eastern Kansas district.
Last year, no Democrats voted to override Kelly's veto. In the House last month, one lawmaker, Rep. Ford Carr, of Wichita, did. While Carr did not immediately respond to a cell phone message seeking comment Thursday, he told the Kansas City Star last month that he had listened to his constituents in deciding how to vote.
Opponents of the bill are working to get Carr or a Republican to switch to no for a vote on overriding the expected Kelly veto.
Meanwhile, LGBTQ-rights advocates also are bracing for further legislative battles this year.
“Targeting a marginalized population for the sake of political advantage is a time-honored tradition in conservative politics,” said Rabbi Moti Rieber, executive director of Kansas Interfaith Action, which supports LGBTQ rights.
The Senate last month approved a bill aimed at blocking gender-affirming care for minors, and it is awaiting a House committee hearing.
The Senate also passed a measure to legally define male and female based only on a person's anatomy at birth, which advocates say would erase transgender people's legal existence. A House committee approved it Wednesday, and a debate in the full House is possible as early as next week.
Adam Kellogg, a 19-year-old transgender man and University of Kansas student, said the message from the Legislature is, "We don’t want you. We don’t care about you.”
He added: “This hurts real people in real time, and it’s an active attempt to take us off the map entirely.”