Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly (D) has vetoed a bill seeking to bar transgender athletes from competing in sports based on their gender identity, dubbing it “divisive, regressive, job-killing legislation” in a Facebook post.
“This legislation sends a devastating message that Kansas is not welcoming to all children and their families, including those who are transgender — who are already at a higher risk of bullying, discrimination, and suicide,” Kelly said in a statement announcing the veto.
“As Kansans, we should be focused on how to include all students in extracurricular activities rather than how to exclude those who may be different than us. Kansas is an inclusive state and our laws should reflect our values. This law does not do that,” Kelly continued, according to Kansas City-based ABC affiliate KMBC.
The bill, approved by the Republican-controlled House and Senate earlier this month, would have prohibited transgender student-athletes in K-12 public schools and public colleges and universities in Kansas from competing on sports teams designated for a gender that does not match their assigned sex at birth.
Proponents primarily focused their talking points around transgender females and the “risk” they pose to “fairness” in athletics when competing against cisgender female athletes.
But opponents of the bill said it sent a horrible message to transgender students that they are undeserving of inclusion, potentially leading to higher risk of bullying, discrimination, or suicide.
Opponents also warned that the bill could incur a backlash against the state from the NCAA, which could decide to move events from states with laws it perceives as discriminatory, as it did with North Carolina in 2016, when it yanked seven sports championships from the state in response to a bill restricting which restroom facilities could be accessed by transgender people.
The NCAA recently released a statement reiterating its policy that cities and states hoping to host sports tournaments are expected to “commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination” to ensure that athletes and fans, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, do not experience discrimination while attending sporting events.
Kansas has previously hosted NCAA tournaments in both Kansas City and Wichita, with the sporting events bringing in millions in revenue from athletes, coaches, and fans who have attended and patronized local businesses in the host cities.
Kelly also worried that the bill would send a negative message to the business community — which has largely come out against similar measures introduced in nearly 30 other states — that the state is hostile to LGBTQ people, and thus may not be an ideal place to relocate, particularly if potential LGBTQ employees pass up job offers out of concern that they will face discrimination outside of the workplace.
“This bill would…undoubtedly harm our ability to attract and retain businesses,” Kelly said. “It would send a signal to prospective companies that Kansas is more focused on unnecessary and divisive legislation, than strategic, pro-growth lawmaking.”
Republican leaders in the House and Senate attacked Kelly for vetoing the bill, and threatened to override her veto. The bill failed to pass with the necessary two-thirds vote needed to override a veto to become law, but Republicans, in Kansas and elsewhere, have made anti-transgender legislation one of the cornerstones of their party’s agenda heading into the 2022 election cycle, offering up to 66 different bills seeking to impose bans on transgender athletes.
Some political observers worry Republican leaders in the legislature could end up twisting the arms of moderate Republicans who initially voted against the measure, thereby getting the necessary votes to pass the bill over Kelly’s objection.
“It’s not surprising but nonetheless disappointing that Governor Kelly opted to veto the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act and capitulate to the mistruths and extreme rhetoric offered by the left,” Kansas Senate President Ty Masterson (R-Andover) and State Sen. Renee Erickson (R-Wichita), the bill’s lead sponsor, said in a joint statement.
“The Fairness in Women’s Sports Act is as simple as it sounds — it ensures fairness. It’s not about anything else other than that, and no state should allow itself to be intimidated by big corporations or the NCAA into pretending otherwise. We will continue to fight for fairness in women’s sports until this bill becomes law.”
LGBTQ rights groups praised Kelly for her veto, with Alphonso David, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, calling it a “win for Kansas.”
“The Human Rights Campaign is grateful for the governor’s support of transgender Kansans, and we look forward to continued partnership with her administration to ensure that the state legislature honors and protects the dignity of LGBTQ people,” David said in a statement. “SB 55 was nothing more than a politically motived bill that seeks to dehumanize transgender Kansans.
“The Kansas state legislature must uphold the veto and shift its legislative priorities to critical matters that legitimately impact the state,” David added. “Transgender children are not seeking to gain an unfair competitive advantage. They are just children who want the opportunity to learn important skills of sportsmanship, competition, and teamwork with their peers.”
Tom Witt, the executive director of Equality Kansas, said his organization was grateful to Kelly for vetoing the bill, calling the governor a “strong and steadfast ally of the LGBTQ community.”
“Transgender kids across Kansas know they have a champion in the fight for equality and fairness. Equality Kansas delivered hundreds of messages to Governor Kelly’s office over the past week from Kansans asking her to veto this bill,” Witt said in a statement. “Our focus will now turn to asking legislators to sustain that veto. We will continue to fight so that SB 55 will never become law.”
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