Kansas House passes revived effort to ban transgender athletes from women’s sports

Senate to vote on controversial bill Thursday

A proposal offered by the Senate Education Committee, chaired by Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg, inserted a Senate bill to ban transgender girls from women's sport into Senate Bill 55. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — In an impassioned speech late Thursday, Rep. Brandon Woodard called on Kansas House colleagues to reject the notion a bill banning transgender athletes from women’s sports would create a level playing field, saying it would instead send a negligent message almost certainly leading to bullying.

The Lenexa Democrat said the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act — a controversial measure requiring all school-sponsored sports teams to designate each team based on the biological sex of the team members — would also drive business from the state.

Champions of the measure said it would guarantee a level playing field for girls and women. On the other hand, Woodard and other opponents of the bill have argued it would establish a legal authority to further marginalize transgender people and would almost certainly be challenged in court as unconstitutional.

Rep. Brandon Woodard, D-Lenexa, said Senate Bill 55 would lead to companies severing ties with Kansas and invite costly litigation. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

“If we pass this, young people are leaving our state in droves. In fact, young people are one of the biggest, biggest exports of our state of Kansas,” Woodard, one of three openly LGBTQ state lawmakers, said. “It’s not because of taxes. It’s because of backward policy like this.”

On a 76-43 vote, the House approved the proposal from Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg, on behalf of the Senate Education Committee, to replace the contents of Senate Bill 55 with that of the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act. Republican legislators from the House K-12 Education Budget Committee agreed to the proposal.

 The Democratic legislators from both chambers on the conference committee opposed the bill.

The Senate is expected to vote on the measure Friday. If passed, the bill will head to Gov. Laura Kelly for review.

The bill would provide little recourse from those seeking to issue complaints on the execution of the bill. Athletic associations, government entities and licensing organizations would be prohibited from entertaining a complaint or opening an investigation against any public education institution upholding these separate teams.

If the act is violated, individuals and organizations may file a civil suit and seek damages or other relief. 

“As a mother of three daughters and one son, I want my daughters to be able to fairly compete,” said Rep. Kristey Williams, R-Augusta, in accepting the Senate proposal. “I must support our girls.”

Rep. Jerry Stogsdill recoiled at the fact a bill banning transgender girls from participating in K-12 or college women’s athletics was even being considered in Kansas.

“I think that 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. “This is morally wrong, and I think it’s prejudicial toward a large segment of our children who do identify differently.”

On the House floor, Rep. Susan Humphries said those voting against the bill don’t support fairness or Title IX.

“What I hear today is that women don’t matter and girls don’t matter,” Humphries said. “I don’t like being called hateful about this, but I think women and girls deserve a fair playing field.”

Opponent testimony on the bill came from Rep. Stephanie Byers, a Wichita Democrat and the state’s first transgender legislator, the Kansas National Education Association and Equality Kansas, among others. During the March hearing on the measure, they noted there are few instances of transgender athletes excelling in athletics due to physiological advantages. 

Hundreds of NCAA and professional female athletes have come forward in support of the transgender community and in opposition to similar legislation, Byers said. She said transgender athletes only in the news on the rare occasions they win, not all the times they lose.

Rep. Stephanie Byers condemned the effort of a education conference committee to revive a bill banning transgender girls from women’s K-12 and college sports. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

“They’re not dominating sports,” Byers said. “If we follow the logic all the way through about a biological advantage, then anybody who is taller than average should not be playing basketball. Anybody who’s arms are longer than average should not be swimming.”

The Attorney General’s office advised legislators that passage of the bill would likely result in a lengthy court battle over the constitutionality of the act. 

In that March hearing, Rep. Barbara Ehardt — an Idaho legislator who filed the country’s first bill seeking to ban transgender girls from women’s sports — provided testimony championing the Kansas version of the legislation. Sen. Renee Erickson, R-Wichita, and a member of the conference committee, also provided testimony. 

An amendment later introduced by Erickson on the Senate floor eliminated a provision that provided for physical examinations if a child’s gender is called into question. Opponents had argued this section of the bill was highly invasive and likely traumatic.

Even with the examination clause removed, Senate Minority Leaders Dinah Sykes, D-Lenexa, said the bill could have far-reaching consequences on individuals and the state.

“I think excluding women who are trans hurts all women,” Sykes said on Thursday. “It’s a bad policy that we’re trying to put in place. It will affect our economic outcomes in our state and it will hurt business.”