TOPEKA — As tensions boiled over in a heated debate Wednesday night over a proposal to ban transgender girls and women from sports, Sen. Renee Erickson deflected concerns about the mental state of transgender youths.
Democrats insisted the scrutiny the bill would place on a vulnerable population of children would lead to more suicide, that lawmakers will have blood on their hands. Erickson, a Republican and retired educator from Wichita, insisted the legislation was just about ensuring fair competition among girls.
“I find it incredibly insulting to use the hyperbole that there will be blood on our hands,” Erickson said, “that somehow they’re insulted by facts, by trying to provide a level playing field for fair competition for girls, and they want to take it everywhere but there. Because there is no logical, factual scientific basis for being opposed to this bill.”
By the time the Senate passed the bill on a 24-10 vote, the 2.5-hour debate had ambled through clashing views on female empowerment, a showcase of male bravado, pleas for compassion, and references to underdogs, snowflakes, the superiority of men, and the “wild west” of genital exams. There were concerns about the legality of a discriminatory bill, how much the law would cost to defend, the lack of a definition for “biological sex,” a refusal to acknowledge the bill’s author, and whether there is a need for a law when just five transgender girls are playing high school sports in Kansas.
Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, tried to narrow the scope of debate by telling lawmakers at the start to set aside emotional pleas and focus on the need for fair competition. He pointed to the existing practice of separating sports by gender, age and weight because of physiological differences. And, he said, he knows a lesbian volleyball coach who agrees with him.
Think about the underdog, Masterson said.
“The underdog is the young woman who worked and trained all her life to achieve something that can be wiped out in an instant from unfair competition, that otherwise we would not tolerate,” Masterson said.
Under the proposed legislation, which still requires approval from the House before going to the governor, universities, public schools and the private schools they compete against would be required to sort teams into one of five categories: boys, girls, men, women, or coed. Participation would be limited to an individual’s corresponding “biological sex.”
Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes, D-Lenexa, said the bill doesn’t define “biological sex,” or specify what should happen if someone questions a child’s gender. Without guardrails, she said, “this will create the wild west for reinforcement.”
“I appreciate several of my male colleagues telling me how they want to protect the underdog and how men are superior,” Sykes said. “I actually find that rather misogynistic and rude. And that’s what bills like this do. They say they’re going to protect women, but they’re not. Excluding women who are trans hurts all women.”
Sen. Ethan Corson, D-Prairie Village, questioned the pushback whenever Democrats tried to talk about the adverse effects the bill would have on transgender children, who suffer disproportionately higher rates of suicide and homelessness. The state should be making policies to protect vulnerable children, he said.
“It is a little bit rich, indeed, to have such self righteousness when the actual practical implications of bills like this are brought up,” Corson said.
Erickson said the loss of life of any young person is a tragedy, then pivoted to a statement about school districts that avoided in-person instruction for health safety reasons during the pandemic.
“It’s tragic when we lose students to suicide because they’ve been shut down for a year and are unable to go to school and see their friends,” Erickson said. “That’s tragic.”
Corson demanded to know the author of the legislation.
Corson: “This bill reads like kind of a bad book report, and I’m just curious who wrote it.
Erickson: “Here we go with the insults because they can’t deal with the facts of what we’re dealing with with this bill.”
Corson: “Who wrote this bill?”
Erickson said the Kansas Revisor of Statutes wrote the bill, although it is virtually identical to legislation introduced in two dozen other states.
The legislation apparently was forged by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a group that claims a “homosexual agenda” will destroy Christianity and society. The Southern Poverty Law Center says the group has supported other anti-LGBTQ policies, including state-sanctioned sterilization of transgender people abroad.
In other states, passage of the law has prompted immediate legal action. The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas has promised to file a lawsuit if it passes here.
Corson pointed to the potential for the law to cost millions of dollars to defend. Erickson responded: “I’m certainly glad to see that our colleagues across the aisle are concerned about the fiscal health of our state.”
“The bigger question is can you put a cost on providing opportunities for girls and women?” Erickson said. “I didn’t know that you could put a cost on that.”
Sen. Kristen O’Shea, R-Topeka, said the country has a long history of treating women’s sports unequally to men’s sports. She asked her male colleagues to show respect.
“You’ve not experienced what it’s like for half of the population to be faster than you, stronger than you, bigger than you. It leaves you feeling quite vulnerable,” O’Shea said. “There are still many areas in society that this is used against women, these vulnerabilities are exploited. Women’s sports is a space where we feel safe. By voting no, you’re sending a clear message to 50% of the population that women don’t matter, that their efforts to win in the bodies they’ve been given don’t matter.”
The speech prompted a profane outburst on Twitter from Rep. Brandon Woodard, a Democrat from Lenexa and one of the state’s three openly LGBTQ legislators.
“Are you f****** kidding me?” Woodard wrote. “This so-called ‘moderate’ is using talking points from the anti-LGBTQ group, Family Policy Alliance.”
Earlier Wednesday, Woodard introduced a competing bill that would make it a crime to disclose the sexual orientation or gender identity of an individual younger than 18. He said the bill was necessary because of the Senate’s obsession with children’s genitals.
Corson proposed an amendment that would have replaced the Senate bill with Woodard’s bill, but the attempt was blocked by Republicans who determined the two issues were not related.
Sen. Beverly Gossage, R-Eudora, said she couldn’t believe what she was hearing from opponents to the bill.
“Have we lost our minds?” Gossage said. “This is ridiculous. Of course a biological male is going to win the race. It would be odd if he didn’t.”
Sen. Virgil Peck, R-Havana, said he still believes in chivalry and standing up for “God’s special creation — females.”
“Are we, American men, going to take a stand and defend our young ladies so they can receive a great scholarship to an institution of higher learning?” Peck said. “I will. I’m gonna take a stand. Some more questions: Have we men given away our man card to the snowflakes? Are we going to allow someone to carry our manhood around in their fanny pack or in their purse? Are there no longer any alpha males? Who will stand and defend our young ladies, our wives, our daughters, our granddaughters, our neighbor’s wives, daughters and granddaughters? I will.”
Support for the bill fell shy of the two-thirds needed to override a veto from Gov. Laura Kelly, with two Democrats and three Republicans not voting. Another Republican was absent.
Sen. Brenda Dietrich, a retired superintendent from Topeka, was the only Republican to vote against the bill.