Kendall Hawkins, policy coordinator for GLSEN Kansas and transgender woman, is concerned about ramifications of a Senate bill requiring athletes from elementary school through college to be assigned to teams based on gender at birth. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Kendall Hawkins is the mother of a second-grader, works as a special-education teacher, coaches middle-school cross country and served in the Kansas Army National Guard.
She’s also a transgender woman who understands the harassment, assaults and hostility aimed at trans students by teachers and peers in schools across the state. She volunteers with GLSEN, which works to end discrimination based on gender identity and expression, and knows transgender students are scared. In the past two years, three in the Wichita area lost their lives.
The Senate Education Committee’s decision to consider Senate Bill 208, which bans transgender girls and women from participating in female sports teams from elementary school through college, could prove deadly.
“As a trans woman,” Hawkins said, “I understand and share many of the struggles transgender kids endure when one of them has lost the violence or suicide. I don’t just feel their loss. I experience it. I’m tired of standing up the candlelight vigils. I’m tired of burying trans kids. Why aren’t you?”
Natasha Chart, executive director of the Women’s Liberation Front in Washington, D.C., said the legislation opposed by Hawkins would help prevent unraveling of progress made the past half century with Title IX of the Civil Rights Act. The radical feminist organization, which considers the visibility of transgender people a “social contagion,” supports the Kansas bill mandating female student athletic teams only include members declared biologically female at birth.
“The fashion of allowing male students to compete in female athletics based on ‘gender identity’ claims puts this progress at risk by costing hard-working women and girls the opportunity to compete in fair and safe sporting competitions,” Chart said.
Fate of the Senate bill hasn’t been made clear, but support from House and Senate leadership could expand controversy beyond the Senate Education Committee’s one-hour hearing on the bill.
Caroline Bruce McAndrew grew up in Wichita and was a member of the 2004 U.S. Olympic swim team, where she competed in the 200-meter breaststroke. She went on to become an NCAA champion in the 100-yard and 200-yard breaststroke while at Stanford University. Her sisters and brother also were competitive swimmers, but she said there was no reasonable possibility of competing with boys and men in the pool. She medically retired from swimming at age 22, but continued to coach and mentor swimmers.
“My career as an athlete gave me so much more than I could have ever imagined,” she said. “I thank God for the amazing experiences, friendships and memories swimming provided for me.”
McAndrew said drug testing of elite athletes such as herself became an accepted reality of competition, a reference to language in the Senate bill opening up girls or women to gender challenges from students, parents or other third-parties.
She endorsed the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act because she cannot imagine swimming against people who had physical advantages — in this case, transgender women — than she had at birth. As a mother eager to see her children be part of sports, she didn’t want sports to undergo a transition that placed transgender individuals in races with girls and women.
Beth Stelzer, a powerlifter and founder of Save Women’s Sports, said she wouldn’t have started her journey into fitness if required to compete against men. It would have been pointless, she said, because physical advantages of men over women resulted in performance differentials of more than 30%.
“No matter what medical intervention is attempted, a male body will never be transformed into a female body. It can only be made to appear more female,” she said. “Currently, society is being manipulated into believing that people can literally change their birth-determined sex if they simply proclaim that they are a different ‘gender.’ Please note that the two words do not mean the same thing. ‘Sex’ is biological, while ‘gender’ relates to social behavior and the way someone wishes to be viewed by others. Sex is a fact. Gender is an idea.”
About a girl and boy
Emporia resident Ryann Brooks, the mother of a transgender child, said issues raised by the Senate bill were near and dear to her heart. Six months ago, her 12-year-old came out as transgender. She said her smart, funny and artistic daughter knew before she could vocally express that her physical body didn’t match her gender. Years of internal struggle had manifested into anxiety and depression, she said.
“When she finally told me, ‘Mom, I’m a girl,’ everything made sense,” Brooks said. “The smile I hadn’t seen in years has come back.”
She said the state of Kansas needed legislators to take on serious policy and financial challenges rather than devote energy to telling children they were less-than-kids that didn’t belong in sports activities.
Davis Hammet, a bisexual who began attempting suicide in the fourth grade rather than deal with a world that wouldn’t accept him, said the safety of children was placed at risk whenever the Legislature rolled out a bill targeting LGBTQ individuals.
There are death threats against children, he said, mostly issued by adults. Word of the bill will get around and kids will have to absorb the reality of state government officials actively working to exclude them from participation in athletics, he said.
“This bill is shameful,” Hammet said. “Passing such legislation would be a disgusting abuse of power exercised by government leaders against vulnerable transgender children. Further, subjecting all girls in Kansas to an invasive genital inspection procedure to play public school sports is bizarre and disturbing.”
The coach’s call
Idaho state Rep. Barbara Ehardt, author of the original fairness for women in sports bill, said she was motivated in 2020 to develop the legislation because girls and women had fought too hard for equal footing on the field or court since Title XI was adopted in 1972. She was told as an 8-year-old that her dream of playing sports was folly. Girls didn’t do that, she was told.
“Little did I know how much it would change and impact my life,” Ehardt said.
She went on to play basketball at Idaho State University and work as an assistant coach at University of California-Santa Barbara, Brigham Young University and Washington State University before hired as head coach at California State at Fullerton, where she wrapped up her career in 2003.
Ehardt was appointed to the Idaho Legislature and in her first term authored a bill restricting statewide sex education. In 2020, she introduced the women in sports bill. It passed, but has yet to be implemented because a federal court judge said plaintiffs in a lawsuit were likely to succeed in establishing the law as unconstitutional.
The representative complained University of Montana cross country runner Juniper Eastwood, a transgender athlete, was allowed to compete against women in Division I sports program. Eastwood, formerly referred to as John, performed well.
She suggested Eastwood could compel other cross country coaches to recruit transgender women to their teams.
“If John had done this his freshman year, I guarantee you it would have forced every other Big Sky school to go out and recruit somebody to be able to compete against June Eastwood. Because, in athletics, it’s first about winning. It’s first about competition. All the other benefits come secondary,” Ehardt said.
No, it’s about bullying
Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, said the bill wasn’t about who could shoot a basketball, throw a baseball, serve a volleyball, kick a football or run the 100-yard dash. It’s not about sports competition in Kansas, he said, where 0.00004% of high school student-athletes were transgender. In other words, there are five transgender students taking part in sports at public high schools in Kansas.
“Enacting the provisions of SB 208 is the equivalent of taping a ‘KICK ME’ note to the back of every transgender student in Kansas. You will not be protecting anyone with this legislation. Instead, you will be opening the door to more bullying, more harassment and more self-harm,” Witt said.
He said Equality Kansas was opposed to Senate Bill 208 as it had 10 bills or resolutions introduced in Kansas to target transgender and gender non-conforming students since the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark legalizing same-sex marriage.
In 2016, there legislation setting a $2,500 bounty on any gender non-conforming student caught using the “wrong” bathroom. In 2021, the House and Senate have entertained versions of the sports bill as well as measures denying the simplest, reversible forms of affirmative health care to transgender and gender non-conforming youths.
“This is a Legislature showing years of animus toward LGBTQ people,” he said. “As much as I hate to say it, I must: Stop the bullying. Five years of targeting these kids is enough. It’s time for the Kansas Legislature to pick on someone their own size.”
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