Transgender student athlete ban on the books in Kansas, following three years of GOP campaigning

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Post updated at 4:28 p.m. Wednesday, April 5:

TOPEKA — Transgender girls are now blocked from playing women’s sports from kindergarten through college, following the Legislature’s successful override of Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of a transgender student athlete ban. 

The veto was overridden Wednesday, with a 84-40 vote in the House and a 28-12 vote in the Senate. Both chambers barely met the two-thirds threshold to override the governor’s March veto, the third year in a row Kelly rejected the legislation. Kansas is now the 20th state to pass a transgender student athlete ban into law.

Kelly talked to reporters about the override at an unrelated event in Olathe.

“It sort of breaks my heart,” Kelly said. “It certainly is disappointing. I know that there’s some legislators for whom this was a very, very hard vote, and one that I think they will regret as they look back on their time in the Legislature.”

Kelly said it was tragic that lawmakers focused on the ban when there were so many ongoing education issues that needed attention.

“This is sort of a moral values vote,” Kelly said. “I think they voted against their own moral code and their own values. I think that’s going to be very tough for them long-term.”

The legislation requires children to participate in school activities based on the gender they were assigned at birth, from elementary school to college. Challenges could require them to undergo genital inspections, or require a birth certificate for proof of the child’s gender. 

It is one of several pieces of legislation aimed at transgender youths across the state, including a proposed “women’s bill of rights” that would ban transgender women from female-designated spaces, and a bill that would block access to gender-affirming treatment for those under age 18.

House debate 

Republicans hold supermajorities in both chambers. The House originally passed the bill Feb. 23 by an 82-40 margin, with Rep. Ford Carr, D-Wichita, joining Republicans in supporting the legislation. The Senate approved the bill 28-11 on March 9.

Following the House vote, Rep. Susan Ruiz, a Shawnee Democrat, stood up and addressed some of the Republican lawmakers who voted for the ban, telling them they were “full of s***.” Rep. Heather Meyer, an Overland Park Democrat with a transgender child, stood up to display her t-shirt, which read: “Protect trans youth.”

Ruiz said she responded that way because she heard Republican lawmakers laughing after they passed the ban. Ruiz wasn’t happy with the behavior by Rep. Patrick Penn, a Wichita Republican.

“He came in gloating, and it’s wrong,” Ruiz said in an interview after the vote. “This is all about wins and losses for them. This is a win for them. They don’t care what kind of a win it is. They don’t care about the unintended consequences. They don’t care that trans kids have a target on their back.”

During the Wednesday vote, every House Democrat except Rep. Marvin Robinson, of Kansas City, voted against the legislation. Republican Reps. Mark Schreiber, of Emporia, and David Younger, of Ulysses, broke away from their party to vote against the ban.

Other Republicans in the House said the ban was needed, despite no evidence that transgender athletes are impacting women’s sports in Kansas. A common argument in favor of the ban is that women athletes would lose opportunities if transgender women were allowed to participate in female sports.

Penn said not banning transgender athletes is racist. Penn said Black women shouldn’t have to give up their victories because a “man decided to suit up with the females and go dominate the court.”

The bill actually applies to transgender women competing with cisgender women.

“Vote yes, override this veto, end racism,” Penn said.

Rep. Barbara Wasinger, a Hays Republican who asked the House to consider the transgender student athlete ban, said the bill was about protecting women’s rights. She said not approving the ban would be regressive.

“Let’s not go back in time,” Wasinger said.

House lawmakers against the ban had LGBTQ+ flags displayed on their desks. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)
House lawmakers against the ban on transgender athletes in K-12 and college sports displayed LGBTQ pride flags on their desks. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector) 

Senate debate 

The veto override passed the Senate in less than 20 minutes of discussion.

The original vote was 26-11, one vote short of the threshold needed to override.Sen. Carolyn McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican, said she was concerned that subjecting young children to gender inspections or making them show their birth certificates could have a lasting negative impact. 

“They should be running like little beehives on the soccer field and having fun,” McGinn said during the ban debate. “But now we’re going to do this physical inspection, and I believe that child will always be questioning themselves, ‘Why did that happen?’ ”

After sharing her objections, McGinn voted in favor of the ban.

Senate President Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, said the ban’s passage was the result of years of campaigning by the Kansas GOP. 

“While we were hopeful the governor would meet us in the middle and honor her campaign rhetoric, we stood firm on our commitment to fairness for Kansas women. Today, the hard work of so many prevailed when this important bill got across the goal line,” Masterson said in a news release.

Statewide impact 

The legislation would apply to approximately two student athletes in Kansas schools, according to the Kansas State High School Activities Association.

Rep. Jerry Stogsdill, a Prairie Village Democrat, said he called the KSHSAA on Tuesday and learned that 11 out of 109,402 students registered in activities in Kansas are transitioning, and not all are playing sports. The athletics association has received zero complaints about these transgender students, Stogsdill said.

Taryn Jones, a lobbyist with Equality Kansas, called the ban “state-sanctioned bullying of children.”

“As we’ve seen with discussions on trans issues in Kansas and around the nation, this bill is based on misinformation, false science and homophobia,” Jones said in a news release after the House vote.

The transgender student athlete ban has been pushed by national organizations, with similar legislation appearing in Montana, Idaho, South Dakota, Iowa, Utah, Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma and other states. About 19 states have some sort of transgender student athlete ban.

Ruiz said she was worried for transgender children in the state.

“They don’t care if LGBTQ+ kids, trans kids, kill themselves because of what they hear around them,” Ruiz said. “They think that kids aren’t listening to us. They are.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus 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: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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