Kansas Senate passes ban on transgender youths in girls sports, despite boycott fears
The Kansas Senate approved legislation Wednesday night banning transgender athletes from girls and women’s interscholastic sports, even as opponents of the legislation fear it could have an adverse effect on the state's sporting and economic climate.
The bill would require athletes to compete in sporting events based on a person’s gender assignment at birth. That means someone deemed to be male at birth but who later transitions to female couldn't compete in women's sports.
Advocates for transgender Kansans have framed this push as an attack on transgender youths, while proponents have argued it preserves fairness for girls in sports.
Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, said that without "identity politics" the bill would be noncontroversial. He equated it to requiring age or weight class requirements in wrestling.
"You don't let the 18-year-old wrestle the 12-year-old because he has an advantage," Masterson said. "A physiological, long-established, well-grounded in science, advantage. And you are protecting the underdog."
Other Republicans voiced similar arguments.
In a bizarre speech, Sen. Virgil Peck, R-Havana, argued the bill should serve as a call to "alpha males" to stand up for women.
"Have we, men, given away our man card to the snowflakes?" Peck said. "Are we going to allow someone to carry around our manhood in a fanny pack or their purse?"
Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes, D-Lenexa, countered that those who asserted that the bill was to protect the "underdog" were being "misogynistic" and "rude."
She said that it would lead to transgender youths being targeted in schools, with other opponents also pointing to statistics that transgender youths were already more likely to consider suicide and more likely to be bullied.
"This is not about protecting women, it is about the exclusion of students from sports," Sykes said. "What we are going to do with this bill is we are going to bully kids. We are going to take a group of kids who are already at a disadvantage and make it worse for them. Honestly, there is going to be blood on our hands."
Similar legislation is being considered in 25 other states and U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., has pushed a similar effort in Congress. Idaho was the first state with such a law and it was joined by Mississippi last week.
The Idaho law is currently held up in court, with a federal judge ruling in August that it was unconstitutional. The matter is currently pending appeal, but the ACLU of Kansas has already vowed a similar legal fight in Kansas.
"The state is going to run up an even higher tab with the ACLU by passing this," said Thomas Witt, executive director for Equality Kansas.
There are also potential economic ramifications to the bill's passage.
Over 500 student-athletes signed an open letter to the NCAA last week, arguing for the organization to refuse to host championships in states that pass such a ban. This could affect Kansas — the NCAA has played part of its men's basketball tournament in Wichita in recent years.
Such a move wouldn't be without precedent. The NCAA threatened to move its championships out of North Carolina in 2016 after lawmakers considered a bill to prevent some transgender people from using the restroom that matched their gender identity.
Witt also said companies might think twice before they relocate to the state, were the bill to pass. Similar threats were raised
"With our rural economy on the ropes, the last thing we can afford is to run people off," he said. "Whether that is our own kids who graduate from high school and leave the state or businesses that are looking for a place to locate ... who decide Kansas just isn't the place for them."
But Sen. Renee Erickson, R-Wichita, the bill's author, said that to "bow" to such a possible boycott from the NCAA would be "unconscionable."
"It reminds me of a quote from James Frost: 'The saddest thing about selling out is just how cheaply most of us might do it for,' " Erickson said. "I guess the money is more important than opportunities for girls and women."
The bill passed 24-10, with six lawmakers either passing or absent from the vote; Sen. Brenda Dietrich, R-Topeka, was the lone Republican to vote no. Twenty-seven votes are needed to override a potential veto from Gov. Laura Kelly. The legislation now goes to the Kansas House.
Kelly hasn't said whether she would sign the bill but told the Associated Press Wednesday that the legislation was "regressive."