Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly has vetoed a bill seeking to bar transgender athletes from competing on sports teams that match their gender identity — marking the third straight year in a row that she’s vetoed such a measure.
While Kelly’s two previous vetoes withstood override attempts, it is unclear whether the Republican-led legislature will amass the votes needed to enact the measure over Kelly’s objections — although initial vote tallies in both chambers seem to indicate the votes are there.
Last year, Republicans seized upon Kelly’s vetoes as a major campaign issue, trying to paint her in TV and radio ads as out-of-step with Kansans and as hostile to women’s athletics, arguing that allowing transgender females to compete puts cisgender athletes at a disadvantage, robbing them of the opportunity to win awards and other honors.
During the campaign, Kelly said that decisions on transgender eligibility should be left to individual schools, doctors, families, and local officials. As reported by The Associated Press, Kelly claimed that the bills favored by Republicans would have “created unnecessary new government mandates,” and could have potentially hurt the state’s business climate by creating a backlash similar to the one experienced by North Carolina when it passed a transgender restroom ban in 2016.
Despite the onslaught of attack ads trumpeting the transgender sports issue, Kelly was ultimately re-elected narrowly last November.
If Republicans do override Kelly’s veto, it would make Kansas the 19th state to pass a law restricting transgender participation in female-designated sports, prohibiting any student assigned male at birth from competing against women athletes, except in the case of a co-ed sports team or club. The bill’s strict designations based on gender would apply to all single-sex sports teams and clubs at both the K-12 and collegiate levels.
Kansas House Speaker Dan Hawkins (R-Wichita) recently defended the legislation on Twitter, posting tweets that endorse a theory that “social contagion” has led to more people identifying as transgender.
Opponents of the bill say statistics show most transgender youth do not compete in school activities, let alone high school sports, and believe — at most — there may be only one transgender girl competing on a sports team in the state. But proponents, including Hawkins, say the ban is needed to prevent future transgender athletes from competing and compromising the fairness and safety of female athletes.
During last year’s re-election campaign, Kelly aired a television ad in which she said: “Of course, men should not play girls’ sports. OK, we all agree there.”
Republicans have charged she was lying about her stance on transgender participation in sports, pointing to that commercial as evidence. LGBTQ advocates argue she was being truthful because transgender women are not “men,” despite what social conservatives say.
The measure comes as several other states with Republican-dominated legislatures are attempting to pass bills restricting LGBTQ visibility, and specifically, transgender rights, including the right to use facilities matching their gender identity and to access gender-affirming health care treatments.
Already this year, Kansas Republicans have introduced similar bills, including a measure to revoke the licenses of doctors who prescribe hormones, puberty blockers, or surgery for transgender minors. That measure has already passed the State Senate.
Another Senate-approved measure seeks to define “male” and “female” in Kansas law based on a person’s anatomy at birth and would restrict transgender females and nonbinary individuals from accessing facilities designated for women. The bill would also prevent transgender individuals from changing the gender marker on their birth certificates or driver’s licenses — even though the state is currently bound by a 2019 federal court order directing officials to allow birth certificate changes.
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