TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas conservatives on Friday pushed a proposed ban on transgender athletes in girl’s and women’s school sports through the Republican-controlled Legislature but don’t have enough support yet to overcome a possible veto by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly.
The Senate approved the measure, 26-11, after the House passed it late Thursday, 76-43, sending it to Kelly. Overturning a veto in Kansas requires a two-thirds majority of all members — whether they are present for the vote — and both chambers were short of the mark.
The Democratic governor typically does not say what she’ll do with legislation before it reaches her desk, but she has dropped strong hints that she plans to veto such a ban. She’s a supporter of LGBTQ rights, and she’s called the bill “regressive” and suggested it would hurt the state’s efforts to recruit businesses.
The bill’s critics echoed Kelly’s arguments during legislative debates and suggested enacting the ban could scuttle a bid by Kansas City to host 2026 World Cup soccer games.
“Anti-anything — right? — particularly in the world of sports, is not going to help us,” Katherine Fox, who sits on a committee lobbying for Kansas City, told The Associated Press. “I just feel like these organizations are definitely looking at what’s happening at the local level because they’re not going to spend their money supporting events in markets that are discriminatory.”
Kansas is among more than 20 states that have considered such a ban this year, pushing back against an executive order from Democratic President Joe Biden aimed at preventing discrimination against transgender students. Idaho enacted such a ban last year, and Republican governors in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee have signed measures this year.
Supporters argued that they’re trying to preserving decades of hard-won opportunities for “biological” girls and women to compete in K-12 sports and win college athletic scholarships. They suggested that failing to enact such a ban represented discrimination against girls and women.
Backers of the bill were eight votes short in the House and one short in the Senate of the supermajorities they would need to override a veto.
Sen. Renee Erickson, a Wichita Republican and former college basketball point guard who led the push for the bill, said she hopes to get at least one colleague to switch to yes if Kelly vetoes the measure.
“I want girls and women to have a chance at a fair and equitable playing field in sports,” she said. “This bill protects that.”
With Idaho’s ban on hold because of a federal lawsuit, the American Civil Liberties Union has promised to sue if Kansas enacts a law.
Fox said a consulting firm hired by FIFA, international soccer’s governing body, asked the committee lobbying for Kansas City to address concerns over Kansas and Missouri lacking legal protections against LGBTQ discrimination. She said the Kansas measure won’t help “mitigate their concerns.” FIFA did not answer an email sent to its media line.
The threat of a lawsuit — and arguments that Kansas could lose sports tournaments or business development — irritated some conservative lawmakers. They also bristled at LGBTQ-rights advocates’ predictions that enacting the ban would increase bullying of transgender students.
“Saying, ‘If you don’t do what we like and do what we want or think different than us, we’re going to hurt you by not coming to your state,’ that is corporate bullying, and it’s wrong,” Erickson said.
Supporters of such bans have pointed to the 15 championships won between 2017 and 2019 by two transgender high school runners in Connecticut, which prompted a federal lawsuit. They argue that “biological boys” have innate physical advantages in girls’ and women’s sports that would ruin competition.
“It’s discrimination to not pass this — it’s discrimination for women,” said Sen. Kristen O’Shea, a Topeka Republican.
Supporters generally have been unable to cite local examples of problems. The association overseeing extracurricular activities in Kansas K-12 schools says it has been notified of only five active transgender athletes, and there is no known case of a transgender athlete having won a Kansas championship.
The debate in the Senate became emotional and heated. Minority Leader Dinah Sykes, a Kansas City-area Democrat, began to cry as she said the proposed ban “hurts vulnerable children.” Sen. Ethan Corson, another Kansas City-area Democrat, found himself accused of ageism after he suggested the bill’s support resulted from many senators being 60 or older and fearing what’s “different than the way we grew up.”
In the House, freshman Democratic Rep. Stephanie Byers, of Wichita, the state’s first transgender lawmaker, saw the bill as an effort to prevent trans students from being fully part of society.
“Trans girls are girls,” she told colleagues. “Trans women are women.”