Kansas Senate panel approves bill banning transgender girls from sports

By: - March 16, 2021 3:11 pm

Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg, said debate about a proposed ban on transgender girls in sports was best reserved for the Senate floor. (March 11, 2021, photo by Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — The Republican chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee called a vote Tuesday on legislation to ban transgender girls from participating in K-12 or college sports after silencing a Democrat who wanted to tell a personal story in opposition to the bill.

Members of the committee removed a section of Senate Bill 208 that required genital examinations, then passed the bill after 10 minutes of discussion.

Sen. Brenda Dietrich, R-Topeka, said she would choose compassion over the anti-transgender legislation. (March 11, 2021, photo by Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Sen. Brenda Dietrich, a Republican from Topeka and retired public school superintendent, joined the panel’s two Democrats in opposing the legislation. She said the NCAA and Kansas State High School Activities Association already have policies in place regarding transgender athletes.

“This doesn’t really seem to be an issue in Kansas at this point in time,” Dietrich said. “I just feel like I want to choose compassion and local control today, so I’ll be a no.”

Sen. Molly Baumgardner, a Republican from Louisburg who serves as chairwoman of the committee, responded: “I’m not taking that that you’re saying all other senators don’t have compassion? OK.”

The bill would require public schools and universities to identify the gender associated with each sports team, and limit participation based on an individual’s “biological” gender. Accrediting organizations and athletic associations are prohibited from taking adverse action against schools for complying with the law.

The Kansas Attorney General’s Office advised lawmakers that the bill will be challenged on constitutional grounds. The court battle could require outside counsel and take four years to litigate.

Supporters of the LGBTQ community criticized the bill as hate masquerading as competitive fairness.

Sen. Pat Pettey, a Democrat and retired teacher from Kansas City, said she didn’t think the bill was mean-spirited but worried it would create “a bigger problem.”

“Bullying has been a No. 1 discussion issue in this legislative body for years, and we have asked the state board to include it and curriculum in service and reporting,” Pettey said. “Now we are setting up a mechanism to support bullying through this legislation.”

Baumgardner cut Pettey off as she started to tell a story from her own family.

“You’re editing what I’m saying?” Pettey said.

“We are not debating the bill, because we are going to be voting on the bill,” Baumgardner said. “And I think that is more for the floor debate. So if we could just focus on where you are with regard to — so save that stories and how it’s impacted you and your family for that floor debate.”

Sen. Kristen O’Shea, R-Topeka, said she considered proposing an amendment to address bullying concerns associated with the bill but decided not to.

“I don’t know that we can legislate bullying, but I fully hear the opponents’ concerns about it,” O’Shea said. “I just want to offer that I’m open to conversation about that at any time.”

Sen. Renee Erickson, R-Wichita, introduced an amendment to the bill that removes genital examinations. (March 11, 2021, photo by Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Sen. Renee Erickson, a Republican and former middle school principal from Wichita, introduced the amendment to eliminate a section of the bill that provided for physical examinations if a child’s gender is called into question. The committee endorsed the change, making the bill silent on how a dispute would be resolved.

Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes, D-Lenexa, faulted the committee for basing participation in sports on “the myth of the biological sex.”

“Many who oppose transgender rights believe that gender is determined solely by biological sex, but biological sex isn’t as straightforward as they likely think,” Sykes said. “There’s no one parameter that makes a person biologically male or female. In fact, many conditions make assigning a biological sex quite difficult.”

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the Kansas Press Association’s journalist of the year. He has written award-winning news stories about the instability of the Kansas foster care system, misconduct by government officials, sexual abuse, technology, education, and the Legislature. He previously spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. A lifelong Kansan, he graduated from Emporia State University in 2004 as a Shepherd Scholar with a degree in English.

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