Gov. Laura Kelly announced Friday she has vetoed legislation that bans transgender and cisgender girls from playing together. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly for the third straight year has vetoed model legislation that would ban transgender girls from playing school sports with cisgender girls.
The Democratic governor said Friday the annual attack on transgender students sends “a signal to prospective companies that Kansas is more focused on unnecessary and divisive legislation than becoming a place where young people want to work and raise a family.”
“Let’s be clear about what this bill is all about — politics,” Kelly said. “It won’t increase any test scores. It won’t help any kids read or write. It won’t help any teachers prepare our kids for the real world. Here’s what this bill would actually do: harm the mental health of our students.”
House Bill 2238 would require children as young as kindergarten age to participate in school activities based on the gender they were assigned at birth. Challenges potentially could expose them to genital inspections.
The Kansas State High School Activities Association said earlier this year that the law would apply to approximately two student athletes in Kansas schools.
Republicans hold supermajority ranks in both chambers, but it remains unclear whether they have the 84 votes needed to override the veto in the House. One Democrat joined Republicans in the House in passing the bill by an 82-40 margin on Feb. 23. Republicans in the Senate, which needs 27 votes to override a veto, passed the bill by a 28-11 margin on March 9.
Debates this year have mirrored past discussions on transgender athletes. The Legislature passed similar bills in 2021 and 2022.
Republicans argue the bill is necessary to protect girls from losing scholarship opportunities or sharing locker rooms with boys, and frequently use talking points spawned by anti-LGBTQ hate groups that crafted the model legislation.
When the governor campaigned for reelection last year, she said men shouldn’t compete in women’s sports. But Republicans have refused to acknowledge a distinction between men and transgender women.
“Now that she no longer has to face the voters, the governor has done another about face,” said House Speaker Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican.
Hawkins said the bill passed the House and Senate “with broad support to protect the rights of female athletes in the state by requiring that female student athletic teams only include members who are biologically female. This is common sense. Republicans in the House will make every effort to override this veto.”
Rija Nazir, of the civic action group Loud Light, said the bill was “never about sports or athletes.”
“Not only does this bill fail to understand the difference between sex and gender, but dehumanizes cisgender girls by measuring them by the potential function of their reproductive organs,” Nazir said. “The Kansas Legislature should be ashamed of themselves for attempting to infringe on the privacy of minors.”
The Legislature has 30 calendar days to try to override a veto, which means lawmakers would have to attempt an override before the regular session is scheduled to end April 6.
Rep. Floyd Carr was the lone Democrat to vote in favor of the legislation. He is a first-term legislator from Wichita.
Rep. Mark Schreiber, an Emporia Republican, and Rep. David Younger, a Ulysses Republican and retired educator, broke from party ranks to vote against the bill.
Two other Republicans, Rep. Randy Garber, of Sabetha, and Rep. Tom Kessler, of Wichita, were absent from the vote, along with Topeka Democrat Rep. Virgil Weigel.
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