Conservative Republicans advanced a proposal Tuesday that would ban transgender students from girl's and women's sports in Kansas schools and colleges, and supporters are increasingly confident of success.
The state Senate Education Committee approved the bill on a voice vote after a brief debate, sending it to the full Senate, where GOP leaders have identified the measure as a priority.
Freshman Rep. Stephanie Byers a Wichita Democrat and the first transgender state lawmaker elected in Kansas, said the committee’s vote tells transgender students that they can’t just be themselves.
“What we just witnessed was the intentional attack on a small group of people that are part of a marginalized community,” Byers said.
Republicans in Congress and more than 20 state legislatures are pushing for similar bans, though supporters largely haven't been able to cite examples of transgender students' participation causing problems.
The state association that oversees middle and high school activities in Kansas has said it knows of only five transgender students currently active in K-12 activities, and there's no record of any transgender school sports champions. But supporters argue that a ban would promote fairness in girls' and women's sports and repeatedly point to the 15 championships won between 2017 and 2019 by two transgender high school runners in Connecticut, which prompted a federal lawsuit.
“If we have five, then that's a threat to every girl's opportunity, and there's plenty of other opportunities for biological boys to compete,” said Brittany Jones, advocacy director for the conservative Family Policy Alliance of Kansas. “It doesn't have to be a very large number to have a huge impact.”
Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly hasn't said publicly whether she would veto the measure, but she has advocated for LGBTQ rights. She signed an executive order on her second day in office banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in state hiring and employment decisions.
Jones said she's confident that the measure has enough support to overcome a potential veto by Kelly. Republicans hold supermajorities in both chambers, and the 2020 elections made the Legislature more conservative.
She and other supporters of the bill portray themselves as the defenders of hard-won opportunities for women in sports and other activities made possible by federal civil rights laws starting in the 1970s.
“This bill is about ensuring that girls have a fair opportunity,” Jones said.
Many conservatives in Congress and across the nation are responding to an executive order by Democratic President Joe Biden that bans discrimination based on gender identity in school sports and elsewhere, which he signed the day he took office. Idaho enacted a ban on transgender athletes in girl's and women's sports last year, and in Mississippi, GOP Gov. Tate Reeves signed a measure into law last week.
Kansas LGBTQ-rights advocates have warned lawmakers that pursuing this year's measure would lead to increased bullying of already vulnerable transgender children. Byers said the bill's supporters are telling some students that they are “not enough girl,” just as female students are sometimes told they are not tall or thin enough.
The two Democrats on the nine-member Senate committee voted against the bill, as did moderate GOP Sen. Brenda Dietrich, of Topeka, a former school superintendent. The state's school activities association has had policies for allowing transgender students' participation for about a decade.
“This doesn't really seem to be an issue in Kansas at this point in time,” Dietrich said. “I want to choose compassion and local control today.”
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