Rep. Stephanie Byers, D-Wichita, testifies Monday in opposition to legislation that would ban transgender athletes from school sports. (Kansas Reflector screen capture from Kansas Legislature YouTube channel)
TOPEKA — Rep. Stephanie Byers told members of the Senate Education Committee on Monday what it is like to be a transgender woman in today’s environment.
Byers, a Wichita Democrat and the state’s first transgender legislator, said it means you get messages like this: “Stop appropriating and making a mockery of womanhood, you fat useless f***.”
She spoke as the Senate panel revived a battle cry over model legislation that forces transgender athletes into the firefight of a political culture war. As an elected official, Byers said, she expects to receive abusive comments, but children shouldn’t be subjected to such bullying.
Support for Senate Bill 484 is fueled by faith-based anti-LGBTQ interests who package the proposal as a necessary protection for girls against a hypothetical threat. The proposed legislation would ban transgender girls from participating in school activities with other girls, or transgender boys from playing with other boys.
Without this protection, said Brittany Jones, director of policy and engagement for Kansas Family Voice, female sports could be “erased.”
“Kansas should not wait until its girls have lost opportunities or been displaced in order to act,” Jones said.
The Rev. Caela Simmons Wood, pastor at First Congregational United Church of Christ of Manhattan, said the God of her Bible isn’t constrained by categories like “male” or “female.” Many Christians believe transgender people are created in God’s divine image, Simmons Wood said.
The legislation doesn’t just create unnecessary barriers for transgender youths, she said. It does something much more dangerous: It calls into question their very existence.
“And since I’m a religious person, I will use religious language to describe what that is. That is blasphemy,” Simmons Wood said. “Any attempt to deny the image of God within another human being, to deny another human being’s very existence, is an affront to the faith of Jesus.”
Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed nearly identical legislation last year, and the Senate narrowly failed to override her veto. Sen. Renee Erickson, R-Wichita, reintroduced the bill this year.
Erickson pointed to disparities in 100-meter dash times between male and female athletes.
“Senate Bill 484 is about fairness — fairness in athletic opportunities for girls. Nothing more, nothing less,” Erickson said. “Either you believe the science of anatomy and physiology that boys and girls are different, or you don’t. Either you believe these differences give boys an athletic competitive advantage, especially when it comes to strength and speed, or you don’t.”
Kyle Velte, an associate professor at the University of Kansas School of law, said the legislation is based on the erroneous assumption that transgender girls have a categorical advantage over cisgender girls. Instead of furthering equality, Velte said, the bill inflicts rank discrimination.
“It leaves only one reason for this bill, and that is animus dislike or fear of transgender people and transgender kids,” Velte said.
Byers and three other legislators from the LGBTQ community led a large chorus of opposition to the bill, with a crowd overflowing the committee room. At the time of the hearing, 109 people had provided written testimony in opposition to the bill, compared to 11 supporters. The supporters include representatives of national groups, such as the Women’s Liberation Front and Alliance Defending Freedom, as well as Idaho state Rep. Barbara Ehardt, who bragged about being the first sponsor of the model legislation. A federal judge has issued a temporary injunction blocking enforcement of the Idaho law.
Aileen Berquist, of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, warned lawmakers of the legal consequences evident in “a long line of court cases.” The bill is trying to do precisely what is prohibited under the landmark federal protections for women athletes known as Title IX, Berquist said. The legislation singles out students on the basis of their gender identity and excludes them from sports.
Paige Olson, of Kansas Appleseed, said inclusion in sports leads to better self-esteem for transgender students. A 2021 survey found that 52% of transgender children in the United States had considered suicide, Olson said.
“This bill is disguised as something to protect girls, when in actuality it is a bill that punishes girls for stating who they are,” Olson said. “Trans girls are girls.”
Davis Hammet, a voting rights advocate and member of the LGBTQ community, said the bill is an attempt to “drive vulnerable children into darkness and despair.” He said he heard from transgender teenagers and adults last year who feared the state was “not only targeting them, but inspiring others to commit violence against them.”
“I beg you,” Hammet said. “I beg you, please oppose Senate Bill 484. Stop introducing and holding hearings on these bills that target, harass and encourage violence against LGBTQ Kansans, especially children.”
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Rachel Locks, a medical doctor from Wichita, said research identified factors contributing to suicidal behavior by transgender people. They include gender-based victimization, discrimination, bullying, violence, being rejected by the family and friends.
As a transgender woman, Locks said, she is familiar with suicidal behavior.
“I’ve tasted the cold steel of a 357 Magnum,” Locks said. “Fortunately, I opted not to pull the trigger. Instead, I opted to come out and live authentically. I have friends who have taken the other path.”
Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansans, said the bill is written to apply to children as young as 4 years old participating in any club or intramural activity.
“So basically what we’re talking about is boys and girls playing kickball in kindergarten are going to be at risk of forced into genital inspections,” Witt said. “You just can’t get more disgusting than that. But that’s where this legislation goes.”
Suzanne Wheeler, a retired Army colonel and executive director at the Mid-America LGBT Chamber of Commerce, said bills like this are the “epitome of government overreach.”
“They’re political theater designed to incite voters to the polls for personal expediency of candidates, rather than helping out all of our Kansas citizens,” Wheeler said.
Sen. Mark Steffen, a Republican from Hutchinson and an anesthesiologist, told the committee he was speaking as a physician.
It’s a new year, Steffen said, but “the science is still the same.”
At an early age, “we start to recognize the difference between boys and girls, men and women,” Steffen said. Boys have more body mass and muscle.
He referenced his daughter, who played basketball and testified in support of the bill a year ago. Future generations should have the same opportunity as his daughter, Steffen said.
“This is about opportunity,” Steffen said. “It’s about fair competition”
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