Revived ban on transgender athletes in women's sports sent to Gov. Laura Kelly after tense debate
Over the course of two days of emotionally charged debate, Kansas legislators revived and passed legislation banning transgender athletes from girls' and women's athletics, sending the bill to Gov. Laura Kelly's desk Friday.
Opponents harshly condemned the move as a blow to the mental health of transgender youths and the state's economic future. The Kansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has already vowed a legal challenge if the bill is signed into law.
Kelly hasn't weighed in on what she will do with the bill but did express concern last month over its potential economic effects, calling it "regressive."
The revived legislation comes after the push appeared to stall out in the Kansas House.
But legislators opted to put the language into an unrelated bill Thursday morning during negotiations between House and Senate members. It was approved by the House later that evening and the Senate followed suit Friday morning.
Emotions run high in charged debate
Emotions ran high over the course of the two days of back-and-forth in both chambers. Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, called the debate "one of the ugliest I've seen in this building."
At one point during the Senate debate, Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes, D-Lenexa, called the bill "crappy legislation," prompting a reprimand from Republicans. She then tearfully implored her colleagues to oppose the legislation.
Sen. Tom Hawk, D-Manhattan, echoed that call, recalling how he regretted not doing more to help LGBTQ students when he worked as a guidance counselor.
"I'm thinking of two of those students that I had that I didn't stand up for enough. Those students committed suicide," "And I vowed, as my awareness increased, that I would stand up for those students who are marginalized. And I had to stand up to more than I ever could have imagined or more than I ever had to face in my life as a student or as an adult."
Sen. Mike Thompson, R-Shawnee, said youth suicide is increasing because young people are "confused" by shifting norms surrounding gender identity, without providing evidence.
"They're being taught biology that is completely different from what is in nature," Thompson said. "If we don't stand up today and start defending women right now, this is going to continue in perpetuity. We are going to have a society so confused, we won't know where to go."
'It's got to be about those kids'
Rep. Stephanie Byers, D-Wichita, who is the state's first transgender lawmaker, said Thursday it "is really hard not to take this personally." But she maintained that it was most important to consider the effects on transgender children.
"It can't be about me," she said. "It’s got to be about those folks that are most vulnerable. It’s got to be about those kids.”
Those effects, she said, would include a higher rate of bullying and youth suicide.
As many as 1.8% of U.S. youth identify as transgender, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control's 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, and data shows children face substantially higher risks for depression and suicidality, as well as victimization at school.
Supporters play down legal risk, despite Biden administration
Supporters have argued it is a way of preserving the integrity of women's sports, pointing repeatedly at inherent biological differences between men and women.
"I don't mistreat any student, they have a right to live their life however they want," Sen. Renee Erickson, R-Wichita, said. "But we also have to be fair to all of the students in that school setting. That's what this bill does."
Supporters also brushed aside worries of a potential lawsuit, which the ACLU and others have vowed to file quickly if the bill becomes law. A similar measure in Idaho is under legal challenge, with a federal judge ruling in September that it was unconstitutional. The matter is still pending appeal.
And President Joe Biden's administration has signaled they will view discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity as violating Title IX, the landmark prohibition barring sex discrimination in education.
But Brittany Jones, director of advocacy for the Family Policy Alliance, said she believed the legal basis for that move was faulty, as it relied upon a 2020 U.S. Supreme Court case outlawing sex discrimination against LGBTQ individuals in the workplace.
And Erickson said Thursday she would "welcome those lawsuits."
"I'm sure there will be lawsuits, and it'll be from girls who lost their opportunity to fairly participate in women's sports," she said.
Business, sporting effects of bill debated
As two dozen states consider similar laws, concerns have been raised that businesses and sporting organizations will consider boycotting any state that follows through.
The Kansas Chamber has not indicated a position on the bill but economic development groups in other states, most notably South Dakota, opposed similar bills in those states. Multiple members of the Senate pointed to concerns from various Kansas City, Kan., area economic development groups over the legislation.
Some focused on the potential threat to Wichita as a host site for NCAA its high-profile men's basketball tournament.
"This bill is literally the cherry on top of the economic sundae that is certainly melting quickly into a nasty puddle in Kansas," said Rep. Jerry Stogsdill, D-Prairie Village. "I cannot see this bill doing anything but damaging the reputation of Kansas and the ability to attract the types of businesses we want in Kansas."
Neither chamber appears to have enough support to override a potential veto from Kelly, although the Senate fell one vote shy of reaching that threshold. Three members in that chamber passed and Jones, the FPA lobbyist, said she was confident in winning over one of them to support the legislation.