TOPEKA – The Kansas GOP is testing the waters with new legislation intended to discredit the LGBTQ community, activists say, with bills that aim to criminalize gender-affirming assistance and drag show performances for children and a revised ban on transgender athletes.
House Bill 2238, a new form of “fairness in the act of women’s sports” that has been under discussion in the legislature for years now, was introduced Tuesday at a hearing of the House education committee. The bill would require that female athletic teams from kindergarten through college include only cisgender girls or women. Part of the bill provides that no government agency, association or athletic organization can take action against public education institutions to keep athletic teams or sports segregated by gender.
Another section of the bill states that students who were harmed or deprived of athletic opportunities because their team or sport was not limited to cisgender women had a legal right to seek compensation.
Equality Kansas released a statement calling the legislation a bullying tactic. One concern was how a child’s gender would be verified.
For Kansas high schools affected by the bill, the Kansas High School Activities Association would set rules and regulations to enforce teams made up only of cisgender women. Equality Kansas said determining student gender could mean an “invasive and demeaning physical exam.”
“This is a cost-effective way to score political points by targeting marginalized children,” the statement said. “This, coupled with the numerous anti-LGBTQ laws introduced each year and the refusal to repeal outdated and unconstitutional laws, demonstrates that ‘fairness in women’s sports’ has never been about. The Kansas Legislature is using these bills as another cynical distraction from the work Kansas residents want and need them to do, and they’re doing it at the expense of some of the most marginalized children in our state.
Lawmakers introduced other laws that impact the transgender community this session.
Senate Bill 12, introduced by Senator Mike Thompson, a Shawnee Republican, and Senator Mark Steffen, a Hutchinson Republican, would criminalize HRT and gender reassignment surgery for transgender youth.
Titled the “Child Mutilation Prevention Act,” the bill would make it illegal for doctors to prescribe hormone replacement therapy or perform gender reassignment surgery to anyone under 21, with a few exceptions. Thompson said the legislation was about protecting Kansans who were too young to make informed transition decisions.
Fellow attorney DC Hiegert of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas said the bills show a concerted effort to alienate transgender Kansans.
“Kansas lawmakers considering these bills are sending the message that Kansas is not a welcoming or welcoming place and that trans people don’t belong here,” Hiegert said. “These anti-trans bills not only violate the civil rights and freedoms of all Kansans, they also harm the approximately 14,400 trans people who call Kansas home.”
On Tuesday, Thompson introduced a bill that would criminalize drag shows featuring children.
The legislation did not appear on the lawmaker’s website, prompting criticism for a lack of transparency.
“It’s for relating to obscene entertainment that expands the crime of promoting obscenity to minors, including drag performances,” Thompson said in a one-sentence introduction to the legislation.
Under state law, “promoting obscenity” is a felony for a first offense and a felony for subsequent offenses.
The Kansas City Star, which obtained a copy of the legislation, reported the bill defining drag as any performance in which the performer displays a gender identity other than the one assigned at birth, using clothing, makeup and accessories.
Former Congresswoman Stephanie Byers, a Democrat of Wichita and Kansas’ first transgender legislator, said the bill’s broad language could have put her in violation simply by existing.
“My assigned gender at birth was male, but that’s not who I am,” Byers said. “And so I wear women’s clothes. I wear makeup, so I’ve met that first definition before. I’m a musician. I sing and play, and for Music In Our Schools month I did it in the state capitol rotunda. If this bill had passed and been signed into law, I would have been in violation.
Byers said these laws and other recent laws were introduced to discredit the LGBTQ community by putting it in people’s minds that LGBTQ people somehow pose a threat to children.
“A lot of this legislation isn’t really designed to become law,” Byers said. “What it is designed to be is disputed in the courts. And by putting it into the justice system, and being challenged in that way, we begin to bring notoriety to it, using the legal system as a way to communicate these messages to the general public. We’re seeing it used almost like a propaganda machine.