Kansas Gov. Kelly vetoes GOP attempt to ban transgender athletes from girls sports

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Katie Bernard
·5 min read
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Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed a bill banning transgender students from girl’s and women’s school sports Thursday, slamming the GOP-backed measure as a jobs killer that harms children.

“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 said in a statement.

The move sets up yet another fight in the Kansas Legislature over transgender youth and girls sports when lawmakers return to Topeka in May. It is a fight that advocates have warned could be damaging to the already vulnerable queer youth watching from home.

“They see this as one more barrier to being able to live authentic lives,” said Rep. Stephanie Byers, a Wichita Democrat and Kansas’ first transgender lawmaker. She said she was grateful for the governor’s veto and hopeful that lawmakers, some of whom she said voted yes but expressed concerns behind closed doors, would vote against an override.

“I would hope that they have enough backbone and they have enough of their own determination to stand up and vote their conscience.”

GOP proponents will need to gain significant ground to override Kelly’s veto: 11 additional “yes” votes in the House and one in the Senate. In a statement, Thursday Senate leaders confirmed they will try to do just that.

“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,” Senate President Ty Masterson and Sen. Renee Erickson said in a statement. “It’s not about anything else other than (fairness), and no state should allow itself to be intimidated by big corporations or the NCAA into pretending otherwise. “

The governor had foreshadowed her action last week when she compared the measure to a tax proposal she had already vetoed.

“I’ve made it clear that the last thing that we need to be doing in the state of Kansas is implementing regressive policy that just turns businesses away from our state and kills jobs,” Kelly said.

Advocates of the bill reject arguments that the ban could lead to bullying or even suicide for transgender youth, calling it “unrelated vitriol.” In turn, they characterize threats from the NCAA to pull tournaments from states that enforce such policies as bullying.

The aim of the policy, they say, is to ensure fairness in sports for cisgender women who they argue do not have the same physical capabilities as someone who is born male.

“Republicans in the Kansas Senate will not cower in the face of such intimidation and inflammatory rhetoric,” Masterson, from Andover, and Erickson, from Wichita, said in a statement last week.

“We will not back down in defense of fairness in women’s sports. We will not sell out decades of progress by women for a few days of a basketball tournament.”

The Family Policy Alliance of Kansas, one of the primary organizations pushing for the bill, said in a statement that Kelly’s veto showed she did not support women.

“Why would a family choose to move to Kansas if they knew their daughter’s opportunities were going to be stolen by a biological boy, no matter how hard that girl tried? If the Governor won’t stand up in this simple way, when will she stand up for girls?” said Brittany Jones the organization’s director of advocacy.

No current Kansas students would be impacted by the bill, the Kansas High School Athletics and Activities association said last month.

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate as well as Equality Kansas issued statements thanking Kelly for her veto of policy which Senate Majority Leader Dinah Sykes, a Lenexa Democrat, called “discriminatory” and House Majority Leader Tom Sawyer, a Wichita Democrat, said “masquerades itself as a pro-women bill.”

“Since she first began serving as a Kansas senator in 2005, she has been 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,” said Equality Kansas Director Tom Witt.

In an interview, Witt said he believed a veto override was unlikely but worried the fight would make transgender children “footballs” in a “very partisan political fight.”

According to the American Civil Liberties Union Kansas is one of 31 states where legislation banning transgender youth from girl’s and women’s sports have been introduced. U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall has pushed for similar legislation on a federal level.

In Missouri, lawmakers debated the policy this week when it was added as an amendment to another bill. Lawmakers have not yet voted on the bill it was added to.

If the veto is overridden, the bill is almost certain to lead to lawsuits and could lead to lost athletic events.

The ACLU of Kansas has pledged to sue if the bill is introduced and in the bill’s fiscal note the Kansas Attorney General’s office said such litigation would likely be drawn out and costly.

The NCAA said last week it would “closely monitor” states considering such legislation in considering whether to place tournaments there.

In Kansas, Wichita is set to host the first and second rounds of the 2025 Division I men’s basketball championship and 2024 NCAA Division II wrestling national championships. Wichita will also host the regional rounds in the 2022 NCAA Division I women’s basketball tournament.