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Critics call Kansas’ proposed “women’s rights bill” sexist, transphobic

TOPEKA – Lawmakers have rolled out a new bill that would ban transgender women from women-only spaces under the assumption that biological women tend to be naturally weaker and more vulnerable to violence than men.

Senate Bill 180 received about 30 minutes of discussion at Wednesday’s Senate Committee on Public Health and Welfare hearing, a timeframe that critics said was woefully inadequate to address the full implications of the bill of law. The bill has been called a women’s rights bill, a designation the bill’s opponent Caroline Dean rejected.

Dean, a pastor at the United Church of Christ’s Kansas-Oklahoma Conference, and spokesperson for Kansas Interfaith Action, said the bill doesn’t actually recognize any rights for women.

“The irony of this ‘Women’s Bill’ is that it doesn’t enumerate any actual rights, instead focusing on weaponizing rights rhetoric to erase protections for transgender and non-binary people,” said Dean. “But I can name a few rights that women need: the right to pay equity. The right to be free from gender-based violence and sexual discrimination. The right to have affordable childcare and to have access to health care when I or my children need it.

SB 180 would define “female” as persons with biological reproductive systems developed to produce ova, a definition critics say excludes intersex women and alienates women without ovaries.

The bill states that separate accommodations based on biological sex are not unequal, and that biological women sometimes need women-only social, educational, sports, and other spaces to ensure safety. This would include domestic violence shelters, toilets and changing rooms.

Part of the bill states that “male individuals are, on average, larger, stronger, and faster than females,” as justification for the separation based on biology. Similar legislation has been introduced in North Dakota, Oklahoma and Arizona, among other states.

Former University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines, who has made numerous national appearances in support of transgender sports bans, said she has personally experienced the unfair competition.

Gaines swam competitively at Kentucky for four years and was a five-time SEC champion, 12-time NCAA All-American and a two-time Olympic qualifier. He swam against Lia Thomas, the first openly transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I National Championship in swimming. In the 200m freestyle final at the NCAA Championships, Thomas and Gaines tied for fifth place.

Gaines referred to the competition, saying people like Thomas were winning female sports spaces at an “alarming rate,” across all athletic levels and ages, though there’s little evidence of widespread competition from transgender athletes.

In an interview after the hearing, Gaines told the Reflector that the media wasn’t doing a good job of reporting on biological males competing as females, but that there were plenty of instances where that happened.

In Kansas, only two statewide public school students would be affected by a ban on transgender sports, according to the Kansas State High School Activities Association.

The proponents who have spoken out in favor of this bill and other anti-trans laws have come mostly from out-of-state or national organizations. During a hearing Tuesday into effectively banning gender-affirming treatments, national anti-transgender activists flew in from North Carolina and California to give their testimony.

Gaines said it wasn’t important that she had no ties to Kansas because her religion and nationality qualified her to speak on the issue.

“I don’t care where it comes from,” Gaines said. “One, I identify as a Christian and two, I’m American, and therefore I’m willing to help defend anyone in this nation dealing with confrontation with a biological male.”

Bill’s opponents said they cared that people from out of state were given a meaningful platform to speak about Kansas policies, especially with the short time allowed for SB 180. Kansas ACLU policy director Aileen Berquist said he wanted more Kansas voices to be heard.

“My understanding is that they’re jumping from one state to another, pushing a very specific agenda,” Berquist said. “People who oppose this bill live, work, have children and fight this hate in our communities every day, and they deserve to have their voices heard.”

Senator Cindy Holscher, an Overland Park Democrat, complained that Senator Beverly Gossage, a Republican from Eudora who serves as chair of the Senate health care committee, scheduled multiple hearings on complex bills on the same day.

After the women’s rights bill was heard, the committee had about 15 minutes to discuss a proposed ban on the use of telehealth to prescribe abortifacient drugs.

“I feel like we’re trying to cram a lot of stuff into a very short time,” Holscher said. “And these are very serious things. We have the professionals here, the experts here.”

Gossage told committee members they were running out of time to consider legislation in this session.

“As you know, the bills came in much later this year than other years,” Gossage said. “That’s one of the reasons things feel a little rushed, because we actually only have two days next week to finish our hearings and final action on the accounts, giving us very little time.”

He asked members if they would be willing to work Friday this week, but Sen. Mark Steffen, a Republican from Hutchinson, and Sen. Mike Thompson, a Republican from Shawnee, objected.

“I’d rather do anything but that,” Steffen said. “I have corporate responsibilities.”

“I know,” Gossage said. “we all do.”

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