TOPEKA, Kan. – A Kansas bill banning transgender athletes from girls’ and women’s sports was defeated by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly on Friday for the third straight year, sparking a hotly contested battle in the Republican-controlled legislature over her to override.
Kelly’s action was expected given her two previous vetoes. Kansas Republicans made Kelly’s vetoes a major topic in several television spots when she ran for re-election last year and narrowly won.
Kelly said during the campaign that decisions about transgender athletes should be made by schools, doctors, families and local officials, and that the two bills she vetoed “created unnecessary new government mandates.” Kelly’s veto messages in 2021 and 2022 said the bills had hurt the state’s business climate, and last year’s message added that such proposals only came from “politicians trying to score political points.”
When lawmakers finally approved the bill last week, Jenna Bellemere, a 19-year-old transgender student at the University of Kansas, said, “It’s about isolating people socially, especially trans kids.”
Republicans have more than the two-thirds majority in both houses needed to override a veto, but in 2021 and 2022 some GOP moderators voted against overriding Kelly. House and Senate votes on this year’s bill suggest supporters may have just enough votes to pass.
The measure would apply to girls’ and women’s K-12, club and collegiate sports. If supporters can override Kelly’s veto, Kansas would join 18 other states with such a law, including Iowa, Oklahoma and Texas.
The measure is among dozens of Republican proposals to roll back transgender rights in state buildings across the U.S. Kansas has bills aimed at banning gender-affirming childcare and barring transgender men and women from using bathrooms, locker rooms and others Using facilities associated with their gender identity.
Kelly’s veto came a day after the Republican-dominated Kentucky legislature passed a ban on gender-affirming underage care and the GOP-controlled Iowa legislature passed a school toilet bill.
In defense of the legislation, Kansas House Speaker Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, recently released tweets confirming a theory that has been disproved by several studies that “social contagion” has led to more people identifying as transgender .
He and other Republicans have also argued that banning transgender athletes will preserve fair competition and opportunities for girls and young women.
“This law ensures that in 50 years of progress for women athletes, we don’t move backwards,” Hawkins said in a statement this week.
Kansas officials and LGBTQ rights advocates say only a handful of young transgender people participate in high school activities — and only one transgender Kansas girl may be on a sports team. Proponents of the bill argue that the state should act before transgender athletes become more widespread.
During her re-election campaign, Kelly aired a TV commercial in which she faced the camera and said, “Obviously men shouldn’t play girls’ sports. OK, we all agree on that.”
Republicans said she lied about her record, and they’ve mentioned her statement repeatedly since. LGBTQ rights advocates understood the ad to mean that because transgender women are women, men don’t play women’s sports.
Last week’s Senate vote was 28-11, giving supporters one more than the two-thirds it takes in the 40-seat chamber to overturn a veto.
The House would vote first, however, and the vote there last month was 82-40. While proponents need 84 out of 125 votes to override a veto, it was missing two Republicans supporting the bill.
Last year, supporters lacked a two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives, but in last year’s election, three Republicans who supported a ban replaced GOP lawmakers who voted against overriding Kelly’s veto. While no Democrats voted to override Kelly last year, freshman Democratic Assemblyman Ford Carr of Wichita voted in favor of this year’s bill.
The Republican legislature in Kansas has also pursued a bill to revoke the state medical licenses of physicians who offer anti-pubertal drugs, hormone therapy or surgery to transgender minors. It passed the Senate last month, but the House of Representatives did not have a hearing in committee.
Another bill passed by the Senate would define males and females in Kansas law based on a person’s anatomy at birth and would declare that cisgender women and girls have a right to private spaces separate from men, such as bathrooms and locker rooms.
LGBTQ rights advocates have said the measure will not only bar transgender people from establishments associated with their gender identity, but also legally remove them, along with gender non-conforming and non-binary people.
The language of the bill would also prevent transgender people from changing birth certificates and driver’s licenses to reflect their gender identity, although Kansas is under a 2019 federal court order to allow birth certificate changes.
The measure is before the House of Representatives after one of its committees rewrote it this week to prevent it from applying to intersex people. Intersex describes people born with genitals, chromosomes, or reproductive organs that are not associated with typical definitions of male or female.
“We don’t want to marginalize them any longer,” said Republican Rep. Ron Bryce, a southeastern Kansas doctor.
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