TOPEKA — Kansas could lose hundreds of millions of tourism dollars should the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act become law. The controversial measure requires school-sponsored sports programs to designate each team based on the biological sex of team members.
The bill was at the center of a heated debate Friday morning before it passed the Senate, 26 to 11. Supporters said the legislation is necessary to prevent discrimination against young women, who they said would not have a level playing field should transgender women be allowed to compete. Opponents said the bill harms and discriminates against transgender children.
Sen. Renee Erickson, a Republican from Wichita and the carrier of the bill, said opponents, specifically companies and organizations that have threatened to cancel sporting events in the state, are corporate bullies.
“It comes down to this: No one is being denied an opportunity to participate,” she said. “Everyone has a place to participate in this bill. It’s tragic that we lose the lives of any young person for whatever reason. It’s tragic when it happens because a student is bullied at school whether that’s because of their sexuality, whether that’s because they look different, whether that’s because they’re a nerd, whether that’s because whatever reason, that’s tragic. But to say that this bill and that people that are advocating for it are complicit and contributing to that is beyond the pale.”
Minority Leader Sen. Dinah Sykes, a Democrat from Lenexa who is strongly opposed to the bill, said she had a conversation with leaders from the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, who said if the bill becomes law, the city would no longer be considered by FIFA as a site for the 2026 World Cup. She said the Kansas City metro would lose out on more than $500 million in tourism revenue.
Beyond the concerns raised by sporting event organizers, Sykes and others who opposed the bill said the heart of the issue wasn’t revenue but how this bill could harm transgender children.
“I want a more just and fair society. I did talk about economic benefits, but I want to talk about a more personal one,” Sykes said. “I want to remember the names of the transgender people whose lives have been lost to anti-transgender violence over the years partially in part by crappy legislation like this.”
The bill is virtually identical to legislation introduced in at least two dozen other states. The legislation apparently was forged by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a group that claims a “homosexual agenda” will destroy Christianity and society. The Southern Poverty Law Center says the group has supported other anti-LGBTQ policies, including state-sanctioned sterilization of transgender people abroad.
It passed the House on Thursday and now heads to Gov. Laura Kelly’s desk to be vetoed or signed into law.
Kelly, a Democrat and staunch supporter of LGBTQ rights, hasn’t publicly said whether she plans to veto the bill, and it’s unclear whether the Senate and the House have the two-thirds majority to override such a veto.
In other states, passage of the law has prompted immediate legal action. The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas has promised to file a lawsuit if it passes here.
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