Kansas House debate on latest installment of trans athlete ban produces laughter and name calling

By: - February 23, 2023 8:20 am
Heather Meyer

Rep. Heather Meyer, pictured during a Feb. 7, 2023, committee hearing, says the idea that a man would switch genders to gain a competitive advantage is “ridiculous.” (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Rep. Heather Meyer hoped she wouldn’t have to stand again before her colleagues on the House floor and talk about the life-threatening impact of hateful legislation on transgender children, including her own.

For a third straight year, Republicans scheduled a debate on a proposal to ban transgender girls from competing in sports with cisgender girls — a scenario that involves approximately two student athletes in Kansas schools.

Meyer, an Overland Park Democrat, said Republican fears on the topic amounted to “nonsense.”

“Every time y’all bring these bills up, you’re gonna see me,” Meyer said during Wednesday’s debate. “I’m not going away. The rest of us aren’t either. I’m gonna stand here and I’m gonna keep fighting for our trans kids. And I don’t care if you all don’t like it or not.

“You’re never gonna get rid of me. Even if I lose my seat. I literally don’t care. I’ll still be here knocking on your door telling you about how our kids matter. Our trans kids matter, and they should not be bullied back into the closet by legislators of all people.”

This year’s debate, which lasted about 90 minutes, mirrored past discussions on transgender athletes. Republicans refused to acknowledge a distinction between transgender girls and “biological males.” Democrats berated them for using talking points spawned by anti-LGBTQ hate groups. In the end, the bill advanced on a 79-40 vote with final action planned for Thursday.

The Legislature adopted similar legislation in each of the past two sessions but couldn’t override Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto, which requires 84 votes in the House.

“Let’s hope the third time is the charm,” Rep. Barb Wasinger said in a meeting with House Republicans before the debate. “It’s being heard on Ash Wednesday.”

Barb Wasinger
Rep. Barb Wasinger, R-Hays, led the charge for the latest attempt to ban transgender girls from playing sports with cisgender girls. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Wasinger, a Hays Republican, led the charge to pass House Bill 2238, which would limit participation in girls sports to students who were born with female reproductive systems. The law would apply to just two students in Kansas, according to the Kansas State High School Activities Association.

The way Wasinger put it, “biological men should not be competing against women.”

Men have stronger bodies, stronger bones and greater cardiovascular health, Wasinger said.

“They just can do better,” she told colleagues.

Rep. Chuck Smith, R-Pittsburg, said he asked officials at the Kansas State High School Activities Association why this issue involves so few students in Kansas. The answer, Smith said, is that local school leaders help guide decisions on who participates in sports.

“If a boy can dominate a girl’s sport, the school is supposed to not let them play,” Smith said.

Wasinger responded: “Well, that’s a lovely fairytale. That’s nice.”

Her Republican colleagues roared with laughter.

Later, during debate on the House floor, Rep. Boog Highberger, D-Lawrence, suggested the laughter wouldn’t stop.

“This bill is so 2021,” Highberger said. “They’re gonna start laughing at you behind your backs at some of those conferences you go to: ‘Psst: Did you hear? Kansas is still working on the trans sports bill? Oh, my God!’ You and I know this bill is about a made-up problem.”

Meyer objected to hypothetical examples proposed by Republicans in which men would suddenly decide to identify as women in order to have a competitive advantage. That’s not how it works, Meyer said.

“There is not a child who’s gonna say: ‘You know what? I want to be more competitive at sports, so I’m going to be a woman.’ That doesn’t happen,” Meyer said. “That’s absolutely ridiculous. There’s not been a single case of that occurring. None.”

Rep. Susan Ruiz, a Shawnee Democrat and member of the LGBTQ community, said “you know you’re in a marginalized group because your rights are voted on every couple of years.”

She reminded lawmakers that the model legislation was a product of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a group that claims a “homosexual agenda” will destroy Christianity and society. The attention the group received from promoting the transgender athlete ban, which preys on vast misunderstanding of what it means to be transgender, inspired other groups to join the cause.

“These hate groups found traction in using girls and women in sports as a way to influence legislators to pass laws banning transgender girls from competing in sports with cisgender girls,” Ruiz said.

The issue has proven to be lucrative for fundraising efforts, she added.

Brandon Woodard
Rep. Brandon Woodard says Republicans are unwilling to allow a hearing on legislation that would protect members of the LGBTQ community from discrimination. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Rep. Brandon Woodard, D-Lenexa, questioned Wasinger about how kids were supposed to prove their gender if it is called into question. Wasinger was forced to admit the proposed law would require a physical examination.

“It would be subjecting women to a genital examination in order to play sports,” Woodard said. “Don’t talk to me about women’s fairness up here. You all wouldn’t even stand for women being able to have the right to vote during the State of the State. How dare you.”

His comment was a reference to the governor’s State of the State speech, where only Democrats provided standing ovations.

Woodard, who is also a member of the LGBTQ community, said Republicans won’t even grant a hearing on legislation that would protect against discrimination — “but sure, let’s pass bills that target two people in Kansas.”

“Just for simply trying to organize testimony I’ve been called a ‘pedophile,’ a ‘groomer,’ and a quote, so I don’t get gaveled down, ‘faggot,’ ” Woodard said. “That is the rhetoric that is happening because of what you all are doing. Stop passing bills like this. Focus on actually helping Kansans.”

Rep. Clarke Sanders, R-Salina, pointed out the bill text doesn’t include the word “transgender” or “LGBTQ.”

“It simply says that biological males should not be allowed to compete on a biological female teams,” Sanders said.

Lindsay Vaughn
Rep. Lindsay Vaughn says the proposed ban on transgender athletes doesn’t address any of the inequities she faced as a high school athlete. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Rep. Lindsay Vaughn, D-Overland Park, said the inequities she faced as a high school athlete “had nothing to do with the contents of this bill.”

“We got hand-me-down uniforms, we often shared practice space, and our events were never promoted as much as the guys’ teams,” Vaughn said. “So if we really cared about fairness in girls sports, why are we not advocating for equal funding and resources for female athletes?

“Or what’s more, why aren’t we demanding pay equality for professional female athletes? Or why aren’t we fighting to eliminate or extend the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse cases to seek justice for the many female athletes who are sexually abused as children? The reason is because this bill is not about fairness. It’s about discrimination.”

As Rep. Jerry Stogsdill, D-Prairie Village, put it: “This is a shameful piece of legislation — hateful, bigoted and dangerous. This is more about promoting an extremist political agenda than it is about women’s sports.”

At the end of the debate, Wasinger lamented the name calling she had endured.

“Today I was just called a bigot, misogynist, extremist, shameful and hateful, and I’m offended because I have not been hateful to anyone in this body,” Wasinger said.

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the 2021 and 2022 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. He is a lifelong Kansan.

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