Kansas Governor Backtracks after Saying ‘Men Should Not Compete in Girls’ Sports’

·3 min read

Kansas governor Laura Kelly on Friday attempted to walk back an ad her reelection campaign aired one day earlier in which she said “of course men should not compete in girls’ sports.”

Kelly, a Democrat who twice vetoed the state’s Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, sought to clarify her comments after receiving criticism from Republicans and LGBT advocates.

“We already have a structure in place, the NCAA has a structure in place to deal with issues like this on a one by one basis and I don’t think there’s any other way that you can really deal with this,” Kelly told the Kansas City Star editorial board.

She claimed her ad was not specifically targeted at transgender student-athletes, saying she was talking about “a male over the age of 18” who wanted to compete with girls and that it was an issue of age rather than just gender identity.

“The ad that I put out was to respond to the misleading attacks that my opponent has put out that I favor letting men play in girls sports,” Kelly said. “I have never said that.” 

Kansas attorney general Derek Schmidt, Kelly’s opponent in a tight race for governor that the Cook Political Report has deemed a “toss-up,” held a campaign event earlier this month with a former University of Kentucky swimmer who has been outspoken against the NCAA allowing biologically male University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas to compete in Division I women’s swimming.

Kelly told the paper’s editorial board that she agreed with the NCAA’s decision to allow Thomas to compete and said policy-setting on the issue should be left to NCAA and the Kansas High School Sports and Activities Association.

“The bills that I vetoed were discriminatory. They were also designed by politicians. If this had come from the Kansas High School Activities Association, which is the governing body for sports in our schools, I would have addressed it differently,” she said.

A spokesperson for Kelly suggested the governor “has been consistent in her belief that Kansas kids deserve fairness on the playing field and a safe place to go to school.”

“However, those bills created unnecessary new government mandates, and Republican Governors — like in Indiana and Utah — vetoed similar bills in their states,” spokesperson Lauren Fitzgerald said. “These decisions should be made by medical professionals, school officials, families and local jurisdictions — not politicians.”

She went on to claim that Schmidt is campaigning on “divisive national issues” that affect virtually no Kansas schools.

Kelly’s ad this week sparked outcry from Republicans, who accused Kelly of lying about wanting to protect fairness in women’s sports, as well as LGBT advocates who accused her of using “worrisome” rhetoric.

“Democrat Laura Kelly and her campaign are trying to have it both ways: running a false TV ad claiming Kelly wants to protect girls and women in sports while also refusing to say just how she’ll do it after twice vetoing bills that would have,” Republican Governors Association spokesperson Joanna Rodriguez said in a statement.

“This rhetoric is worrisome and sends a message to trans kids in the state that they aren’t cared about or are only cared about when it is politically advantageous for someone,” said Tom Witt, director of Equality Kansas, according to the report. 

“That language, men playing against girls, that is far-right extremist language meant to put an image in people’s mind of big, grown hairy men beating up on 5-year-olds playing kickball,” Witt added. “And of course, no one agrees with that because that’s not what’s happening. What’s happening is that trans kids go to school and they play sports with their classmates.”

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