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The Kansas Legislature is one step away from banning transgender athletes from women's sports

The feet of soccer players pursuing a ball
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3

Senators voted to override Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly's veto, meaning the ban only needs a House override vote to become law.

Republicans in the Kansas Senate Tuesday overrode Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of legislation that would ban transgender girls and women from competing in girl’s and women’s interscholastic sports.

That sets up a vote in the House that will determine whether the ban becomes law.

In a show of force, Senate Republicans also set aside Kelly’s vetoes of several other measures, including one that would give parents more control over what is taught in public school classrooms, particularly on issues of race, gender, and sexuality: The so-called parents’ bill of rights.

It remains to be seen whether Republicans in the Kansas House can muster the votes to override the vetoes.

Supporters of the transgender ban needed 27 votes, a two-thirds majority of the 40 member Senate, to override the governor’s veto. They got 28, with all but one Republican voting to keep the bill alive.

Republican Sen. Brenda Dietrich, a former Topeka school superintendent, was the lone dissenter. She said she couldn’t support including grade schoolers in the ban.

“I’m just sad that this bill includes our youngest students,” Dietrich said in an emotional explanation of her vote to sustain the veto.

Democrats argued the bill was a political response to a non-existent problem.

“This is the Legislature once again overstepping its boundaries,” said Sen. Cindy Holscher, an Overland Park Democrat.

“(It’s) waging a war it was never asked to fight,” she said.

But supporters insisted the measure is needed to level the playing field for cisgender girls and women who, they said, are not biologically able to compete with physically superior transgender females.

Sen. Kellie Warren, a Leawood Republican and candidate for attorney general, said the competitive gap was obvious when watching her daughters compete in high school track meets.

“It was right there on the clock. Every single boy in their competition finished faster than the fastest girl,” Warren said.

What is the point of competing, Warren asked, “if we don’t provide fairness in girls' sports?”

Sen. Virgil Peck, a Havana Republican, said he’s surprised that more “feminists” aren’t “standing up for young ladies” by supporting the bill.

The bill, Peck said, would do more than protect cisgender women on the playing fields.

“We’re also protecting these females from having boys in their locker rooms and their showers,” he said.

That comment and others, Holscher said, represent the kind of misguided thinking that prompted a female lawmaker to complain about a transgender colleague using the women’s restrooms in the Statehouse.

“Personally I do not appreciate the huge transgender female who is now in our restrooms at the Capitol,” Rep. Cheryl Helmer, a Mulvane Republican, said recently in a response to an opponent of the bill, according to the Kansas Reflector.

That’s an apparent reference to Rep. Stephanie Byers, a Wichita Democrat and Kansas’ first transgender lawmaker.

“These types of statements harken back to the 1950s and 60s, when closed-minded individuals labeled Black people as predators as a reason for not sharing restrooms and water fountains,” Holscher said. “How far back do we as a state need to go?”

If the House also overrides Kelly’s veto and the bill becomes law, the Kansas State High School Activities Association, the Kansas Board of Regents and the boards governing municipal universities, community colleges and technical schools would be required to adopt rules and regulations to enforce the ban.

The measure would prohibit governmental entities, athletic associations and accrediting organizations from investigating complaints arising from the ban. But cisgender athletes could sue any school that fails to enforce it.

Last year, the governor also vetoed a ban on transgender athletes and lawmakers fell short of overriding.

Jim McLean is the senior correspondent for the Kansas News Service and the Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks or email jim (at) kcur (dot) org. 

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. 

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link toksnewsservice.org

Jim McLean is a political correspondent for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration based at KCUR with other public media stations across Kansas. You can email him at jim@kcur.org.
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