Kansas Legislature Overrides Governor's Veto, Bans Trans Athletes From Women’s, Girls’ Sports

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After lawmakers in Kansas failed the last two years to override vetoes to transgender athlete limitation bills, the Legislature on Wednesday gathered enough votes to override Gov. Laura Kelly’s third veto and pass a ban. 

Kansas joins 19 other states that have enacted laws limiting transgender girls to participating in sports that align with the gender they were assigned at birth, NPR station in Kansas City KCUR reported. The Kansas law does not affect transgender boys.

The Kansas ban, which takes effect July 1, bans transgender athletes from girls’ and women’s sports from kindergarten through college, the first of several possible new laws restricting the rights of transgender people pushed through by Republican legislators over the wishes of Democratic governor Laura Kelly, the Associated Press reports.

Kelly had vetoed three similar bills in three years. 

Kansas lawmakers who back the ban are also pursuing proposals to end gender-affirming care for minors and restrict restroom use, as reported by the AP. The measure approved by Kansas lawmakers Tuesday would prevent transgender people from using public restrooms, locker rooms and other facilities associated with their gender identities, and bars them from changing their name or gender on their driver’s licenses. Kelly is expected to veto that.

“I wish it was 1960, and, you know, little Johnny’s a boy and Mary’s a girl, and that’s how it is, period,” Republican state Rep. John Eplee, a 70-year-old doctor, said during a committee discussion of the bathroom bill.

LGBTQ-rights advocates said its part of a national campaign from right-wing traditionalists to erase transgender, non-binary, gender-queer and gender-fluid people from American society.

Alex Poland, an eighth-grade cross-country runner who hopes to play baseball next year, said legislators are pursuing “bills against children” who “haven’t done anything to harm anyone.”

Alex, who lobbied for trans rights with his mother at the Statehouse last week, said it’s good for trans kids’ mental health to play on teams associated with their gender identities, and that most other kids just don’t care.

Kelly told reporters in the Kansas City area that she believes legislators eventually will regret voting for “this really awful bill.”

“It breaks my heart and certainly is disappointing,” Kelly said.

Conservative Republicans in Kansas fell short of the two-thirds majorities in both legislative chambers needed to override Kelly’s vetoes of the transgender athlete bills in 2021 and 2022. But this year, the House voted 84-40 to override her veto, exactly the two-thirds majority needed. The vote was 28-12 in the Senate, one more than a two-thirds majority. 

Two LGBTQ Democratic lawmakers from the Kansas City area were especially upset because they believed Republicans were gloating over the House vote.

Rep. Heather Meyer stood up, opened her jacket and displayed a “Protect Trans Youth” T-shirt before making a rude gesture as she left the chamber, the AP reported.

Rep. Susan Ruiz yelled at GOP members, briefly cursing at them before being told she was out of order. “We’re tired of putting up with it, and I’m tired of putting up with it,” she said later. “There needs to be some respect.”

Across the U.S., supporters of such bans argue that they keep competition fair. Track and field last month barred transgender athletes from international competition, adopting the same rules that swimming did last year.

LGBTQ-rights advocates acknowledge that arguments about competition resonate outside Republicans’ conservative base because of the longstanding assumption that men and boys are naturally stronger than women and girls.

They’re also frustrated that the debate often focuses on whether transgender athletes have or can win championships.

Hudson Taylor, a three-time All-American collegiate wrestler said youth sports should be about learning discipline, “healthy habits,” and having fun in a supportive environment. He founded and leads the pro-LGBTQ group Athlete Ally.

“There’s been a professionalization of youth sports over the last 40 years,” Taylor said. “So often, the legislators and people who oppose trans-athlete inclusion really go directly to the most elite, top talent, Olympic-hopeful athletes.”

The Kansas measure bans transgender athletes from women’s and girls’ teams starting in kindergarten, even though sports and other extra-curricular activities aren’t overseen by the Kansas State High School Activities Association until the seventh grade.

That’s one reason LGBTQ-rights advocates are skeptical that the true issue is fair competition. Another is the scarcity of transgender female athletes. The AP reported that the state association said three transgender girls competed in sports in grades 7-12 this year, two of them seniors.

Taylor said transgender athletes in college likely number fewer than 500. The NCAA says about 219,000 women play collegiate sports.

The international track and field ban doesn’t affect a single transgender female athlete.

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