Kansas Governor Vetoes Legislation Banning Transgender Athletes From School Sports

TOPEKA — For the third year in a row, Gov. Laura Kelly has vetoed model legislation that would have banned transgender girls from playing school sports with cisgender girls.

The Democratic governor said Friday that the annual crackdown on transgender students sends “a signal to future companies that Kansas is more focused on unnecessary and divisive legislation than on becoming a place where young people want to work and raise a family “.

“Let’s be clear about what this bill is about — politics,” Kelly said. “It will not increase test scores. It will not help children read or write. This will not help any teacher prepare our children for the real world. Here’s what this bill will actually do: It will harm the mental health of our students.

House Bill 2238 would require kindergarten-age children to participate in school activities based on the gender they were assigned at birth. The challenges could potentially expose them to genital inspections.

The Kansas State High School Activities Association said earlier this year that the law would apply to roughly two student athletes in Kansas schools.

Republicans have supermajorities in both chambers, but it remains unclear whether they have the 84 votes needed to overcome a House veto. One Democrat joined House Republicans in passing the bill by an 82-40 margin on February 23. Senate Republicans, who need 27 votes to override a veto, passed the bill by a 28-11 margin on March 9.

Debates this year echo past discussions about transgender athletes. The Legislature passed similar bills in 2021 and 2022.

Republicans argue the bill is needed to protect girls from losing scholarship opportunities or sharing locker rooms with boys, and often use talking points spawned by anti-LGBTQ hate groups that crafted the model legislation.

When the governor campaigned for re-election last year, she said men shouldn’t compete in women’s sports. But Republicans have refused to recognize the difference between transgender men and transgender women.

“Now that she no longer has to face voters, the governor has done another facelift,” said House Speaker Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita.

Hawkins said the bill passed the House and Senate “with broad support to protect the rights of female athletes in the state by requiring female college athletic teams to include only members who are biologically female.” This is common sense. House Republicans will make every effort to override this veto.

Rija Nazir, of Loud Light, participates in a March 6, 2023 rally at the Statehouse for bodily autonomy. She says legislation targeting transgender athletes has never been about sports. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Riya Nazir of civil action group Loud Light said the bill was “never about sport or athletes”.

“This bill not only fails to understand the difference between gender and sex, but it dehumanizes cisgender girls by measuring them according to the potential function of their reproductive organs,” Nazir said. “The Kansas Legislature should be ashamed of itself for trying to infringe on the privacy of minors.”

The Legislature has 30 calendar days to try to override the veto, meaning lawmakers will have to try to override it before the regular session ends on April 6.

Congressman Floyd Carr was the only Democrat to vote in favor of the legislation. He is a first term legislator from Wichita.

Congressman Mark Schreiber, R-Emporia, and Congressman David Younger, R-Ulysses and retired educator, broke party lines 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 Rep. Virgil Weigle, a Topeka Democrat.

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