Disputed Kansas anti-transgender sports bill either a personal affront or saving grace

Gov. Kelly vetoed prior ban on trans athletes in girls, women sports

By: - April 4, 2022 10:07 am
Rep. Barb Wasinger, R-Hays, said the competitive integrity of sports teams for girls and women had to be protected from an influx of transgender athletes through a bill sent to Gov. Laura Kelly. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

Rep. Barb Wasinger, R-Hays, said the competitive integrity of sports teams for girls and women had to be protected from an influx of transgender athletes through a bill sent to Gov. Laura Kelly. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Rep. Heather Meyer took it personally the House and Senate for the second time voted to send Gov. Laura Kelly an anti-transgender bill mandating participation in public elementary, middle school, high school or college sports programs to be based on a person’s gender at birth.

Meyer, the mother of a transgender child, said Senate Bill 160 was an unjust attempt to authorize bullying at school and would engrain discrimination in state law. Nearly a year ago, Kelly vetoed the inaugural version of this legislation.

“This is real life. These are real children. This is my child, and I’m going to stand up for them,” said Meyer, an Overland Park Democrat. “I’m going to stand up for their friends. I’m going to stand up for their peers. I’m going to make sure that we continue to protect them from legislation like this. It’s only going to hurt them. Push them into the closet. Have them consider suicide. Put them at higher risk for violence.”


Rep. Barbara Wasinger, a Hays Republican, said she carried the bill on the House floor on behalf of her granddaughters Isabella and Grace.

Girls and women shouldn’t be made to compete against biological-at-birth boys or men because trans athletes have physical advantages and it simply “does not make sense” to mix females with trans females in competition, she said.

“This bill is all about bullying, discrimination and exclusion. Only the bullying, discrimination and exclusion is of young women,” Wasinger said. “This has nothing to do with lesbian, gay or bisexual athletes. It only involves the issue of trans females competing against females in sports.”

The bill passed the House on a vote of 74-39 and was adopted by the Senate 25-13. Veto overrides require two-thirds majorities, which would be 84 in the House and 27 in the Senate.

 

‘Give me grace’

Under the bill, sports teams affiliated with public — not private — schools and colleges would be required to field sports teams based on biological sex at birth. The Kansas State High School Activities Association, the Kansas Board of Regents and the trustees of community colleges and technical colleges would have to adopt rules forbidding trans individuals designated as boys at birth from joining teams of girls or women.

The legislation on Kelly’s desk would enable girls or women to play sports such as football generally regarded as sports for boys or men.

An athlete’s gender status could be challenged by individuals, teams or schools. A method would have to be deployed to resolve disputes. It could involve analysis of documents or medical records as well as feature physical examinations.

“The cowardice of leaving enforcement to Kansas State High School Activities Association is appalling,” said Rep. Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita. “KSHSAA will have no recourse other than creating policies involving intrusive genital inspections. KSHSAA will become a legislative surrogate to impose our will on other people’s children.”

The bill sent Kelly would enable a person alleging psychological, emotional or physical harm by involvement in sports activities with a trans girl or woman to file a lawsuit seeking financial damages. In other states, lawsuits have challenged comparable laws. The Kansas bill was structured so unconstitutional portions could be stricken while preserving other elements.

In legislative hearings, proponents have made the case a change was necessary to guarantee biological females could fairly participate in athletics due to distinct physiological advantages of biological males over biological females. Opponents of the bill said the measure would harm children by excluding them from participating in sports under the gender they identify with.

Rep. Tatum Lee, R-Ness City, said she kept praying during the hourlong House debate, “Lord, give me grace. Give me kindness. Give me empathy.” She said she voted for the bill because she was weary of being bullied for being a biological woman.

“I don’t view this through a political lens. I view this through a biological and religious one. I’m not just a pronoun or a political talking point. I’m a creation of God,” Lee said.

‘God knows the heart’

Rep. Stephanie Byers, a Wichita Democrat and a transgender woman, said Senate Bill 160 wasn’t about athletics. There “might” be one trans girl in public school sports out of tens of thousands of youth involved in those activities, she said.

“We have yet to see any trans kid excel in a sport here in Kansas. And, yet we’re going to go after them anyway just in case,” she said. “Why do these bills keep coming up? Is it because the acceptance of people like me, whether they are four years old or 59?”

Byers said she was aware some people at the Capitol moved away from her after stepping onto an elevator. It is emotionally exhausting for people dealing with daily scorn after mustering the courage to be their authentic selves, she said.

“Being the person that their God knows who they’re created to be,” Byers said. “Because, after all, man sees the outside but God knows the heart.”

It was discouraging members of the House and Senate were content with using children as political pawns, she said. Legislators should vote with their backbone and conscience, she said, not a political party.

Rep. Lindsay Vaughn, D-Overland Park, said she asked her transgender sibling, Keaton, what they would say to an audience of 125 state representatives voting on Senate Bill 160.

Here is their reply: “Every time these exclusionary bills are brought forward, it hurts us. We are real people. And this causes real damage. You’re taking away our rights. The increased rates in suicide and depression in transgender youth are results of not feeling accepted or embraced by society and their communities.

“Sports are a way for kids to participate and bond with their peers. Singling out trans kids makes finding friendships and connections even more difficult.”

Vaughn said the Legislature should be working on inclusive bills to protect marginalized people instead of shoving people into the shadows through calculated political attacks.

Clayton’s fighting words

Rep. Susan Humphries, R-Wichita, said lack of a confirmed instance of a transgender student in Kansas taking part in sports teams for girls or women wasn’t a reason to ignore the issue. It’s comparable to Statehouse personnel performing a daily safety check of each legislator’s desk, she said.

“We wear hard hats in construction zones. In anticipation, we act now, in order to alleviate difficulties later,” she said.

She said the state’s public school sports association had improperly allowed students to participate on teams based on the athlete’s deeply felt internal sense of being male or female. She said the only recourse was to amend Kansas law to prevent someone from misrepresenting “the truth that single sex sport is the only way to preserve fair athletic competition for men and women.”

Rep. Lonnie Clark, a Junction City Republican who was involved in sports health at Drake University, said he observed men and women athletes at the college, Olympic and professional levels and never saw a woman who could compete with a man in sports.

“It has nothing to do with the mental part of it and has nothing to do with the desires of one person versus the next. It’s a biological fact that males are stronger than females,” he said.

Rep. Stephanie Clayton, D-Overland Park, said she opposed the legislation because it would give Kansas a black eye in term of retaining or attracting young people to live or work in the state. The legislation sent a message that was “awfully out of style,” she said.

She also had a message to Clark, who was certain women couldn’t compete with men in a physical sense.

“A previous speaker indicated that men were physically stronger than women. Any man who believes that is welcome to meet me outside … and I will prove you otherwise,” she said.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.

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