Trans Kansas women barred from women’s bathrooms, female-only spaces under new law

Legislature overrides Gov. Kelly’s veto to pass far-reaching ban

By: - April 27, 2023 11:07 am

Kansas lawmakers overrode Gov. Laura Kelly's veto of Senate Bill 180, which targets transgender women and girls. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA —  The Legislature successfully resurrected a transgender bathroom ban that bars transgender and intersex women from restrooms, locker rooms, rape crisis centers and other female-specific spaces, making Kansas the first state to enact such a wide-ranging measure.

Rep. John Alcala, a Topeka Democrat, said the language of the bill reminded him of prejudiced arguments for segregation made in the 1960s.  

“It’s the same sayings,” Alcala said. “I don’t want you in my bathroom, I don’t want you drinking  out of my water fountain. I don’t want you over at my house. I don’t want my kid hanging out with you.”

The new law comes after months of upheaval, with legislators narrowly overturning Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of Senate Bill 180 over two days. Senators voted 28-12 Wednesday to send the bill back to the House for a final vote. The House voted 84-40 Thursday to overrule Kelly’s veto and make the ban a law. The threshold for veto overrides is 84 votes in the House and 27 in the Senate.

The legislation, billed by its supporters as a “women’s bill of rights,” bars individuals who are born without the ability to produce eggs for reproduction from using women’s restrooms, locker rooms and other gender-specific areas.

The ban applies to athletics, prison facilities, domestic violence shelters and “areas where biology, safety or privacy are implicated that result in separate accommodations.” 

The legislation also classifies people with developmental differences, including those who are intersex, as disabled. Intersex individuals would have their own separate facilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a classification that  disability rights and equality rights have called wildly offensive. 

Kansas Republicans justified the legislation by claiming that women are in danger of having their rights usurped by transgender or nonbinary individuals. None of them has been able to point to any evidence of this happening in Kansas. 

House Speaker Dan Hawkins said the legislation would help reduce violence toward women.

“The activists who seek to change the definition of a woman ignore the biological differences that exist between the sexes and recklessly expose females to specific forms of violence, including sexual violence, therefore compromising the safety of female-only spaces such as restrooms, domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers and prisons,” Hawkins said.

Rep. Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican, said the bill was about protecting girls and women. 

“Little girls should not have to be exposed to a man in a female bathroom, but the biggest thing comes down to women’s rights, when we fought for 50 years,” Landwehr said. “Why should our rights be taken away?”

Other female legislators pushed back on this characterization of the bill, including Rep. Susan Ruiz, a Lenexa Democrat and the first openly lesbian representative in the House. 

Ruiz said she has experienced male harassment when using women’s restrooms due to her more masculine appearance and believes the bill, along with other damaging effects, would escalate this sort of harassment.

“This is going to just open up the doors for that and allow much more of that to go on,” Ruiz said. “If you really are here for the kids, you’re going to sustain the veto on this bill. You’ve got to think beyond what these words are. You’ve got to think beyond that and think about what the true ramifications are.” 

Kelly’s administration has warned that enactment of the legislation could put federal funding for multiple Kansas state agency programs that focus on women and girls at risk. The list includes domestic violence and sexual assault grants governed by federal guidelines that prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. 

According to the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, SB 180 compliance could put more than $17 million in funding to Kansas agencies at risk.

The House originally voted 83-41 for the legislation, with the Senate concurring 28-12 to move the bill to Kelly’s desk. Kelly vetoed SB180 on April 20, along with several other bills targeting the transgender population, citing concerns about the bills’ broad scope. 

Senators failed to override the governor’s veto of a bill banning gender-affirming care for minors Wednesday, but several other measures have been or are likely to be successful. 

Republicans overrode Kelly’s veto of a bill requiring county jails to separate inmates by sex assigned at birth Wednesday and are likely to successfully override her veto of a school bill separating students by sex assigned at birth for overnight school field trips in coming days.

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Rachel Mipro
Rachel Mipro

A graduate of Louisiana State University, Rachel Mipro has covered state government in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. She and her fellow team of journalists were 2022 Goldsmith Prize Semi-Finalists for their work featuring the rise of the KKK in northern Louisiana, following racially-motivated shootings in 1960. With her move to the Midwest, Rachel is now turning her focus toward issues within Kansas public policies.