Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly on Wednesday derided a proposed Kansas ban on transgender athletes in girls' and women's school sports as “regressive” as conservative Republicans prepared to advance it in the GOP-controlled Legislature.
Kelly predicted ahead of a state Senate debate on the bill that the policy would make it more difficult to recruit businesses to the state. But supporters dismissed her criticism, and the measure was a priority for top Republicans in the Senate, where the GOP has a supermajority.
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. Idaho enacted a similar law last year that's being challenged in federal court, and Mississippi Republican Gov. Tate Reeves signed a measure into law last week.
Kelly stopped short Wednesday of promising to veto the Kansas measure if it passes the Senate and then the House, as supporters expect. However, she pointed to a past executive order on LGBTQ rights as signaling her position. A day after taking office in 2019, Kelly prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in state hiring or employment decisions.
“We know from lots of experience in other states that when you implement these kinds of regressive social policies that you significantly decrease the ability to attract businesses here,” Kelly said. “Businesses want us to be inclusive.”
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. 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.
Supporters of the Kansas bill also said they're protecting the hard-won opportunities in sports and other activities since federal civil rights laws in the 1970s.
“It's a very positive step for girls in Kansas,” said Brittany Jones, advocacy director for the conservative Family Policy Alliance of Kansas.
State Sen. Renee Erickson, a Wichita Republican, said it's fairer for Kansas to impose the ban before transgender athletes participate widely in girls' and women's sports. She said Kelly “put money over what's best for our women" by worrying about business recruiting.
“It simply requires an equal and level playing field for women and girls, what we've had in place,” said Erickson, a former college basketball player.
LGBTQ-rights advocates see the bill as an attack on transgender kids that is likely to increase bullying of them, and they argue that the debate itself is damaging their mental health.
“They've gotten some affirmation, and now they're seeing that being stripped and being stripped by a governmental organization," said first-term state Rep. Stephanie Byers, a Wichita Democrat and Kansas' first transgender lawmaker.
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