Critics: Kansas bill on trans athletes will cause bullying

LGBTQ-rights advocates warned Kansas lawmakers their efforts to ban transgender students in girls' and women's school sports would be dangerous, and the state would be sued if such a law is enacted.


State News

February 24, 2021 - 9:14 AM

Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, said Senate Bill 208 restricting transgender athletes to teams based on gender at birth was another chapter in the Kansas Legislature’s relentless bullying of LGBTQ people. Photo by (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — LGBTQ-rights advocates warned Kansas legislators Tuesday that their discussion of a proposed ban on transgender students in girls’ and women’s school sports would lead to bullying, and one group promised to sue the state if such a law is enacted.

The state Senate Education Committee had a hearing on a bill backed by some athletes, Republican lawmakers and conservative groups. It would apply to K-12 school and college sports. Supporters portrayed it as an attempt to ensure competition remains fair and that girls and woman aren’t deprived of scholarships and other opportunities in sports.

Idaho’s Republican-controlled Legislature enacted such a law last year. Lawmakers in at least 20 states are considering the idea after an executive order from Democratic President Joe Biden prohibiting discrimination against transgender students sparked a backlash. But in the GOP-controlled Kansas Legislature, Republicans appear split over how aggressively to pursue the measure.

Critics told the Senate committee that merely holding a hearing would tell transgender students that they’re not wanted, and several LGBTQ-rights advocates predicted that news reports would lead to harassment of vulnerable students. They said allowing transgender girls to participate in girls’ sports affirms their identities, making it less likely that they will become suicidal.

“I’m tired of burying trans kids,” said Kendall Hawkins, policy coordinator for the Kansas chapter of GLSEN, an LGBTQ-rights group. “Why aren’t you?”

The Kansas State High School Activities Association, which oversees sports and other activities in K-12 schools, says it has been notified of five transgender students who are active in middle school or high school activities. The association does not track the individual students’ performance, and there’s no record of a transgender athlete winning a championship.

“This bill is telling children like my daughter that she is less than other children,” said Ryann Brooks, the mother of a 12-year-old transgender girl in Emporia. “You’re telling children like my daughter that they don’t belong in activities.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that a federal law barring employment discrimination based on sex also bars bias based on sexual orientation or gender identify, and a federal judge last year blocked Idaho’s law against transgender athletes, though the ruling has been appealed. Kendall Seal, advocacy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, said after the hearing that if lawmakers pass the bill, “We’ll see you in court.”

Education Committee Chair Molly Baumgardner, a Louisburg Republican, wasn’t sure after the hearing when the bill would come to a vote, saying she has higher priorities.

Matt Sharp, senior counsel for the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom, told the committee that he believes the law would withstand court scrutiny. His group has filed a federal lawsuit against a Connecticut policy allowing participation by transgender athletes on behalf of three female high school runners.

And advocates for the measure said it’s vital for preserving opportunities in sports that help girls and women get college scholarships, learn teamwork and build leadership skills. Several athletes said it is unfair to allow athletes born male to compete against female athletes and that doing so would undermine federal laws meant to ensure that schools offer women’s sports.

“I want fairness in sport for my colleagues and teammates who continue to compete collegiately, but also for these young girls just beginning their athletic journeys and developing their competitive spirits,” said Callie Hicks, a former high school and University of Kansas pole vaulter. 

“Biological men have an unfair advantage competing against biological women in women’s sports.”