LGBTQ supporters beg Kansas lawmakers to drop sports fight

A Senate panel heard testimony on a faith-based anti-LGBTQ bill that would ban transgender girls from participating in school activities with other girls, or transgender boys from playing with other boys.


State News

March 8, 2022 - 3:57 PM

TOPEKA — Rep. Stephanie Byers told members of the Senate Education Committee on Monday what it is like to be a transgender woman in today’s environment.

Byers, a Wichita Democrat and the state’s first transgender legislator, said it means you get messages like this: “Stop appropriating and making a mockery of womanhood, you fat useless f***.”

She spoke as the Senate panel revived a battle cry over model legislation that forces transgender athletes into the firefight of a political culture war. As an elected official, Byers said, she expects to receive abusive comments, but children shouldn’t be subjected to such bullying.

Support for Senate Bill 484 is fueled by faith-based anti-LGBTQ interests who package the proposal as a necessary protection for girls against a hypothetical threat. The proposed legislation would ban transgender girls from participating in school activities with other girls, or transgender boys from playing with other boys.

Without this protection, said Brittany Jones, director of policy and engagement for Kansas Family Voice, female sports could be “erased.”

“Kansas should not wait until its girls have lost opportunities or been displaced in order to act,” Jones said.

The Rev. Caela Simmons Wood, pastor at First Congressional United Church of Christ of Manhattan, said the God of her Bible isn’t constrained by categories like “male” or “female.” Many Christians believe transgender people are created in God’s divine image, Simmons Wood said.

The legislation doesn’t just create unnecessary barriers for transgender youths, she said. It does something much more dangerous: It calls into question their very existence.

“And since I’m a religious person, I will use religious language to describe what that is. That is blasphemy,” Simmons Wood said. “Any attempt to deny the image of God within another human being, to deny another human being’s very existence, is an affront to the faith of Jesus.”

Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed nearly identical legislation last year, and the Senate narrowly failed to override her veto. Sen. Renee Erickson, R-Wichita, reintroduced the bill this year.

Erickson pointed to disparities in 100-meter dash times between male and female athletes.

“Senate Bill 484 is about fairness — fairness in athletic opportunities for girls. Nothing more, nothing less,” Erickson said. “Either you believe the science of anatomy and physiology that boys and girls are different, or you don’t. Either you believe these differences give boys an athletic competitive advantage, especially when it comes to strength and speed, or you don’t.”

Kyle Velte, an associate professor at the University of Kansas School of law, said the legislation is based on the erroneous assumption that transgender girls have a categorical advantage over cisgender girls. Instead of furthering equality, Velte said, the bill inflicts rank discrimination.

“It leaves only one reason for this bill, and that is animus dislike or fear of transgender people and transgender kids,” Velte said.

Byers and three other legislators from the LGBTQ community led a large chorus of opposition to the bill, with a crowd overflowing the committee room. At the time of the hearing, 109 people had provided written testimony in opposition to the bill, compared to 11 supporters. The supporters include representatives of national groups, such as the Women’s Liberation Front and Alliance Defending Freedom, as well as Idaho state Rep. Barbara Ehardt, who bragged about being the first sponsor of the model legislation. A federal judge has issued a temporary injunction blocking enforcement of the Idaho law.

Aileen Berquist, of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, warned lawmakers of the legal consequences evident in “a long line of court cases.” The bill is trying to do precisely what is prohibited under the landmark federal protections for women athletes known as Title IX, Berquist said. The legislation singles out students on the basis of their gender identity and excludes them from sports.