Joint House, Senate panel revives effort to ban transgender athletes from women’s sports

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TOPEKA — Kansas Republican legislators from the House and Senate agreed Thursday to insert a bill banning transgender girls from participating in K-12 or college sports into an already massive and controversial education policy bill.

Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg, and chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, proposed that the contents of Senate Bill 55 be replaced with that of the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, a controversial measure requiring all school-sponsored sports teams to designate each team based on the biological sex of the team members. If the act is violated, individuals and organizations may file a civil suit and seek damages or other relief. 

Athletic associations, government entities and licensing organizations would be prohibited from entertaining a complaint or opening an investigation against any public education institution upholding these separate teams.

Opponents of the bill have argued it would establish a legal authority to further marginalize transgender people and would almost certainly be challenged in court as unconstitutional. On the other hand, champions of the measure said it would guarantee a level playing field for girls and women. 

“As a mother of three daughters and one son, I want my daughters to be able to fairly compete,” said Rep. Kristey Williams, R-Augusta, in accepting the Senate proposal. “I must support our girls.”

The act passed the Senate 24-10 along party lines in March but was not heard in the House. The Democratic legislators from both chambers on the conference committee opposed the bill.

Rep. Jerry Stogsdill, D-Prairie Village, recoiled at the fact the measure was even under consideration.

“I think this is morally wrong, and I think it’s prejudicial toward a large segment of our children who do identify differently,” Stogsdill said. “I would just object to us even taking this up.”

Opponent testimony on the bill came from Rep. Stephanie Byers, a Wichita Democrat and the state’s first transgender legislator, the Kansas National Education Association and Equality Kansas, among others. During the March hearing on the measure, they noted there are few instances of transgender athletes excelling in athletics due to physiological advantages. 

The Attorney General’s office advised legislators that passage of the bill would likely result in a lengthy court battle over the constitutionality of the act. 

In that March hearing, Rep. Barbara Ehardt — an Idaho legislator who filed the country’s first bill seeking to ban transgender girls from women’s sports — provided testimony championing the Kansas version of the legislation. Sen. Renee Erickson, R-Wichita, and a member of the conference committee, also provided testimony. 

An amendment later introduced by Erickson on the Senate floor eliminated a provision that provided for physical examinations if a child’s gender is called into question. Opponents had argued this section of the bill was highly invasive and likely traumatic.

Even with the examination clause removed, Senate Minority Leaders Dinah Sykes, D-Lenexa, said the bill could have far-reaching consequences on individuals and the state.

“I think excluding women who are trans hurts all women,” Sykes said on Thursday. “It’s a bad policy that we’re trying to put in place. It will affect our economic outcomes in our state and it will hurt business.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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