TOPEKA, Kansas — Arguing a ban on transgender athletes in girls’ and women’s sports invites bullying, Governor Laura Kelly vetoed a bill that mirrored Republican efforts across the country that would have states policing high school and college sports.
“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,” the governor’s office said in a statement. “Kansas is an inclusive state and our laws should reflect our values. This (bill) does not do that.”
And the Democratic governor repeated her argument that Kansas could lose business by putting the ban into law. The NCAA and other sports organizations have increasingly moved to avoid states seen as hostile to gay and transgender people.
A few weeks earlier, she called the bill a “job killer.”
Her veto sets the stage for a clash with the governor and Republicans who dominate the Legislature over an emerging issue that’s become prominent in culture wars across the country.
Republicans argue that people assigned as male at birth would bring unfair physical advantages if they played in female athletics. They’ve labeled the bill the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act.
Democrats say there’s no evidence that transgender athletes would damage female sports. Instead, they say the bill makes transgender athletes targets for more harassment and discrimination.
The bill passed with a strong margin in both the Kansas House and Senate, although not with the votes it would need to override Kelly’s rejection. Yet it enjoys the support of the conservatives who control leadership across the Legislature and has a reasonable chance to pick up the two-thirds it needs in each chamber to nullify the governor’s veto and become law.
The proposed law, Senate President Ty Masterson and Sen. Renee Erickson said in a statement on Thursday, “ensures fairness.”
“It’s not about anything other than that, and no state should allow itself to be intimidated by big corporations or the NCAA,” their statement said.
In a signal that the override fight was brewing, the two said: “We will continue to fight for fairness in women’s sports until this bill becomes law.
During a visit to Wichita last week, Kelly said adopting the bill into law invites a costly blowback from businesses.
“Companies are making it very clear,” she said at the time, “that they are not interested in this kind of regressive legislation that discriminates against anybody.”
The bill would ban transgender girls and women — those who were assigned at birth as boys but come to identify themselves as female — from female sports teams in public schools and universities.
Last week, the NCAA’s board of governors issued a statement supporting transgender athletes and said the organization only selects locations for major events that are “safe, healthy and free of discrimination.”
“We will continue to closely monitor these situations to determine whether NCAA championships can be conducted in ways that are welcoming and respectful of all participants,” the group said. The organization has made efforts in recent years to be more inclusive of transgender college students.
More than half the legislatures in the country have passed similar bans.
Wichita is already scheduled to hold NCAA basketball championship events in 2022 and 2025. Critics of the bill say Kansas could lose those events to other states if the ban took effect.
Stephen Koranda is the Statehouse reporter and news editor for the Kansas News Service. Follow him on Twitter @Stephen_Koranda. The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of Kansas Public Radio, KCUR, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.