GOP-led Kansas Legislature sends transgender sports ban to Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly
Senate’s debate on gender-at-birth bill inspires gritty rhetorical competition.
TOPEKA — Sen. Renee Erickson fought back against what she viewed as offensive criticism for avidly supporting legislation banning transgender athletes from school-sponsored sports teams for girls and women.
Erickson, a Wichita Republican, said during Senate floor debate Kansas should become the 19th state, along with Oklahoma and Iowa, to adopt a fairness in sports law mandating public schools as well as public colleges and universities limit female athletic teams to cisgender girls or women. The bill would have students in Kansas assigned to male and female sports teams based on biological evidence at birth, including a person’s genitalia, gonads, chromosomes or reproductive potential.
“This is about fairness in athletic competition,” Erickson said. “I’ve heard a lot of, quite frankly, inflammatory accusations and name-calling. We say we don’t like bullying. Name-calling is a hallmark of bullying. Truth sounds like hate to those who hate the truth.”
House Bill 2238, previously approved 82-40 by the House, was embraced Thursday by the Senate on a vote of 28-11. The bill now goes to Gov. Laura Kelly, who last year vetoed a comparable measure. In 2022, the Senate voted 28-10 to override the governor, but the House fell short of the necessary two-thirds majority to complete that process. The House vote last year was 81-41, three votes shy.
The new bill would forbid the National Collegiate Athletic Association, Kansas State High School Activities Association and any other accrediting organization or governmental entity from taking action against an institution maintaining separate sports programs based on gender.
Sen. Dinah Sykes, D-Lenexa, said the legislation was the among a series of bills introduced this session to ostracize LGBTQ individuals. Others included Senate Bill 233, which would block physicians from performing gender identity surgery on minors, and Senate Bill 180, which would restrict the definition of “female” to people with biological reproductive systems.
“These are template bills written by think tanks,” Sykes said. “These bills are an attack on the trans community. Kansans aren’t asking for this.”
Human Rights Campaign, which works for LGBTQ civil rights, reported 175 anti-transgender bills had been introduced in state legislatures so far in 2023.
Sykes associated advocacy for the sports bill by some Kansas senators to a declaration by political commentator Michael Knowles at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference that “transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely.”
“This body is doing the heavy lifting to make that a reality in Kansas,” Sykes said. “Transgender girls are girls. We should be ashamed to be party to these vicious attacks.”
‘Don’t be a robot’
Sen. John Doll, a Garden City Republican, offered an amendment during debate Wednesday to remove grades K-6 from the transgender sports mandate. He argued it didn’t make sense to include younger students because elementary schools didn’t sponsor athletic programs in the manner of middle schools, high schools, colleges and universities.
Subjecting boys and girls to physical examinations to affirm gender whenever someone challenged authenticity of a birth certificate would be traumatic for students, Doll said.
“This is nothing but hate. This is nothing but throwing darts,” Doll said. “I want you to look into your heart. Don’t be a robot. Think. Is this right? I can’t figure out why we’re throwing shade on kindergarten and sixth-grade students.”
His sentiment was echoed by Sen. Brenda Dietrich, a Topeka Republican and former public school superintendent. She said two-thirds of her constitutions responding to a survey said the Legislature should step away from the transgender sports issue or exclude K-6 students from gender inquisitions. Of the 18 states with transgender sports laws, eight states limited the statute to secondary and post-secondary levels.
She also said implementation of the Kansas measure could create ugly, unintended consequences for elementary school students regarding gender verification.
“If you think concussion protocols are a problem, wait until government overreach says, ‘We have to determine your gender and all we have to go by is you standing in front of us,’” Dietrich said.
Doll’s amendment was defeated 11-24 with Erickson, Sen. Kristen O’Shea, R-Topeka, Sen. Mark Steffen, R-Hutchinson, and Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg, elaborating on why they believed it necessary to address transgender issues in sports at the earliest age.
“I do believe young girls — elementary — should have the opportunity to play sports in a fair environment,” O’Shea said.
Steffen said it made sense to tackle transgender complications in sports “at the beginning” because competition issues didn’t suddenly emerge in seventh grade.
All about three students
The office of Attorney General Kris Kobach said House Bill 2238, if it became law, would likely be challenged on constitutional grounds. The process of securing a court ruling on validity of the statute could take several years. Defending the law would be the state’s financial obligation.
In addition, the attorney general said local school boards and community colleges could be subject to new legal liability. Universities in the Kansas Board of Regents system would fall under provisions of the law, but NCAA policies on transgender athletes could inhibit the state’s ability to host NCAA events.
Sen. Pat Pettey, a Democrat from Kansas City, said three transgender girls were known to have registered among 41,000 girls taking part in KSHSAA events. The bill was being pushed through the GOP-led Legislature despite lack of complaints about transgender students, Pettey said.
She said research demonstrated participation by adolescents in sports improved students’ grades, self esteem and aspiration in terms of a college education.
“Yet, we want to talk about denying that opportunity to a segment of our children,” Pettey said. “This bill is not about fairness or women’s sports. It’s about discrimination. It’s an insult to female athletes.”
Erickson, who labeled arguments against the bill a “distraction,” said not enough people understood the path to a college sports scholarship began in elementary school.
“If a boy is allowed to take a spot away from any girl, and she doesn’t get that chance to participate, that’s not right,” Erickson said. “The opponents don’t seem concerned about the trophies, placements and championships that are lost by Kansas girls if we don’t pass this.”
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