Shawnee signals support for banning transgender athletes, despite overwhelming criticism
Shawnee City Council has no control over who participates in school sports, but approved a document that serves as the city’s public stance on issues that could arise in state and federal governments. Shawnee is believed to be the first city in Johnson County to take an official stance on the issue.
One by one, residents stepped up to the microphone Monday to plead with Shawnee city councilmembers not to include an item in their legislative priority list that supports a ban on transgender girls and women participating in cis-female designated sports.
“Please don’t put these words in our mouths and make the claim that we want transgender children to be excluded from competing with their peers in sports,” said Alex Welch Blattner. “We want Shawnee to be welcome to all, including our transgender neighbors.”
Her words were echoed by others, who called the proposal “disgusting,” an embarrassment and irrelevant to city business. All but three of the 18 people who spoke Monday were against the item.
But after close to an hour of public comments, councilmembers voted 7-1 in favor of the “Fairness in Women’s Sports” part of a document that stated the city’s position on a wide range of other topics that could be discussed in Topeka and Washington, D.C. in the coming months.
Councilmember Jill Chalfie was the only dissenting vote.
Shawnee is believed to be the first city in Johnson County to take an official stance on the hot-button issue.
The item reads: “The City supports a bill to protect the fairness of women’s sports; we believe that all should have equal opportunities in sports but allowing biological males to compete in women’s only divisions is robbing girls of their opportunities at all levels.”
The city council of Shawnee holds no power over who can participate in school sports, but the item was meant to give city staff guidance in how to represent Shawnee’s position should it come up among state and federal lawmakers, some councilmembers said.
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly twice over the past two years has vetoed — and had those vetoes sustained by enough lawmakers in the state legislature — bills that would have barred transgender athletes from participating in girl’s and women’s sports.
Kelly’s Republican rival in this year’s gubernatorial race, Attorney General Derek Schmidt, has made the passage of a statewide bill prohibiting persons who were identified as male at birth from competing in girls sports a central theme of his campaign.
What residents said
Although other issues like legalized marijuana and the Fair Housing Act were also on the the city’s proposed legislative wish list Monday night, the transgender item was the only one that received public pushback.
Several speakers who came forward said it was inappropriate for discussion by a governing body that is not involved in sports programs.
“All this accomplishes is to send a message that transgender youth are not welcome in the city of Shawnee,” said Balttner, who had helped organize opponents on social media in the days leading up to the city council meeting.
Kathy Kappasum hearkened back to 2019, when the council approved a non-discrimination ordinance that prohibited discrimination based on gender identity, among other things, and she also mentioned the city’s current rebranding effort.
“Our current slogan is ‘Good Starts Here,’ but that’s not what we’re projecting. This legislative priority rebrands Shawnee as the home of small-minded people,” she said.
Likewise Deborah Altenhofen said, “Recent decisions by the city make me embarrassed to call Shawnee my home.”
She noted that certain athletes have physical advantages that have made competing difficult for their opponents. Under that logic she said, all school sports would have to require every participant to be the exact same age and weight.
Brenon Riffel said not a lot of trans girls are playing sports in Kansas in the first place.
“As a queer individual I have been met with disgust and disdain for simply existing,” Riffel said. “Trans kids are not dominating K-12 sports. This isn’t about sports and it never has been. This is about attacking transgender individuals.”
Three speakers expressed support for the item, including Joe Quinn, who noted his own his observations from when his kids were in school in recent years.
“If you walk down the halls today you’ll see androgenous zombies doing everything they can to hide their femininity and masculinity,” he said.
Transgender people in sports has nothing to do with “fairness or equality and competing,” he said. “It has to do with the locker rooms,” privacy and decency.
“Penises don’t belong in the locker room — in the women’s locker room,” he said. “Stay away from our children, our daughters and our wives.”
When public comments were over, Councilmember Eric Jenkins delivered a seven-minute speech taking commenters to task.
He objected, he said, to councilmembers being characterized as homophobic, saying the item is meant to protect a young woman’s years of hard work and dreams of sports accomplishment, and noted that he has a gay son.
Jenkins said he could relate to some of the arguments, but there’s no way a female athlete will be able to compete against the muscle mass and lung capacity of a male athlete, he said.
“We’re talking about protecting a young women who’s worked hard her entire life to achieve some goals she’s set for herself and now we’re going to just whisk that away from her because some guy decides he wants to be a female and he kind of wants to win the gold medal,” Jenkins said.
“You should be ashamed of yourself,” he told the audience at one point, recalling his 34-year stint in the Army and time as a Green Beret. “My whole life has been about service and taking care of my fellow citizens and I care about the trans people as well.”
Councilmember Angela Stiens also said she did not like being labeled, and reiterated there is a physical difference between male and female athletes.
Mayor Michelle Distler, who does not vote except to break a tie, said she understands that argument, but doesn’t like to generalize.
“There does need to be some fair way for our trans athletes to plan and to compete. I don’t feel comfortable making this statement as a city on a legislative platform,” she said.
This story was originally published on the Shawnee Mission Post.