Kansas enacts transgender athletes ban as lawmakers override Gov. Laura Kelly veto

TOPEKA, Kan. — After years of failed efforts, Kansas legislators successfully enacted a bill to ban transgender athletes in women’s sports over the veto of Gov. Laura Kelly, joining 19 other states with similar measures.

The Kansas Legislature on Wednesday voted to overide the Democratic governor's third veto in three years of a bill to ban transgender athletes and came a day after state lawmakers passed a 'bathroom bill.'

The bill bans transgender athletes from participating in girls' and women's sports from kindergarten through college. It is the latest push of several anti-trans bills introduced by Republican legislators in the state. 

LGBTQ activists, who have successfully beaten back the bill previously, called the event a dark day for the transgender community in Kansas.

Lawmakers and LGBTQ rights advocates have said that the bill will further marginalize transgender youth by cutting off their access to extracurricular activities and by publicly shaming them.

During the debate on the override attempt, Rep. Susan Ruiz, D-Shawnee, pointed to two LGBTQ youth who died by suicide following the 2022 legislative session.

"I heard from friends who knew these kids that these kids followed us, they followed our laws, they were active, not just politically but within their own communities," Ruiz said. "They look up to us and when they see us, and they look at their role models and that, if we kick down on them, they have no reasons to live."

Advocates for the bill cheered the newly enacted measure, claiming it is necessary to ensure fairness.

"We proudly stand with the female athletes across Kansas in their pursuit of athletic awards, opportunities, and scholarships and believe they deserve every chance at success afforded to their male counterparts," House Speaker Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, said in a statement following the vote.

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Rep. Susan Ruiz, D-Shawnee, joins, Rep. Heather Meyer, D-Overland Park, in calling out GOP legislative members following Wednesday's vote to override Gov. Laura Kelly's veto on a bill banning transgender athletes in the state. (Evert Nelson/The Capital-Journal via AP)

Kansas ban part of onslaught of anti-LGBTQ bills

The move makes Kansas the latest state where legislators overcame a gubernatorial veto to enact anti-transgender legislation. Lawmakers in Kentucky enacted a bill restricting health care for transgender youth last week, while legislators in North Dakota were narrowly unable to overturn a veto on a more sweeping proposal.

So far in 2023, lawmakers in 46 states have introduced more than 650 anti-LGBTQ bills, according to a report by the Movement Advancement Project, a think tank that researches LGBTQ issues and laws. 

Kansas joins 19 other states with laws banning transgender youths from participating in school sports. About 27 states have considered 67 bills so far this year.

Transgender youth fear fallout from transgender athletes ban

Ian Benalcázar, a 13-year-old transgender male from Lawrence, said he competed in club sports but feared for his friends who did not.

While Benalcázar said he was fortunate to have a supportive home environment, he said it still took time to realize that he was transgender, which he called "the greatest discovery of my life."

Legislators, he said, did not understand how young people felt about the issue.

"They say they want to protect children but as children we are outraged," he said.

Stephanie Byers, who served in the Kansas House from 2021-22 as the state's first transgender legislator, said the events were tragically ironic given Kansas' moniker as the "free state."

"You watch them begin to curtail the rights that people have, even if it's something as simple as the right to be themselves in athletics, and to do so even though it ignores the science," Byers said. "Even though it ignores the recommendations of medical, even though they understand that it will drive an increase in suicide rates among trans youth in Kansas."

Ian Benalcázar, a 13-year-old transgender male from Lawrence, speaks at a rally in support of transgender rights Friday at the Statehouse.

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Lawsuit threat looms over bill from ACLU, others

The threat of a lawsuit over the ban looms, with the Kansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union all but saying during legislative hearings on the matter that they would attempt to block its enforcement.

Whether that effort would be successful or not, however, remains to be seen.

In January, a federal judge in West Virginia upheld the state's transgender athletes ban in the face of a legal challenge from a middle school transgender girl who had hoped to run cross country.

But that case was quickly appealed to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, who has blocked the law from taking effect. West Virginia has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to let the ban be enforced while the court proceedings play out.

Lawmakers are unlikely to stop at the transgender athletes ban, which is among a handful of anti-transgender bills being considered in Kansas this session and among hundreds of similar bills nationally

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