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Debate in Kansas House over latest installment of banning trans athletes provokes laughter and insults

TOPEKA — Representative Heather Meyer hoped she didn’t have to go back in front of her colleagues in the courtroom again and speak about the life-threatening impact of hateful legislation on transgender children, including her own.

For the third straight year, Republicans have scheduled a debate on a proposal to ban transgender girls from competing in sports with cisgender girls, a scenario involving about two student athletes at Kansas schools.

Meyer, an Overland Park Democrat, said Republican fears on the matter amounted to “nonsense.”

“Every time you raise these bills, you’ll see me,” Meyer said during Wednesday’s debate. “I’m not leaving. The rest of us aren’t either. I will stay here and continue to fight for our trans children. And I don’t care if you all don’t like it or not.

“You will never get rid of me. Even if I lose my job. I literally don’t care. I’ll still be here knocking on your door to tell you how much our children matter. Our trans kids matter and shouldn’t be forced back into the closet by all people’s lawmakers.

This year’s debate, which lasted approximately 90 minutes, mirrored past discussions of transgender athletes. Republicans have refused to recognize a distinction between transgender girls and “biological males.” Democrats chastised them for using talking points generated by anti-LGBTQ hate groups. Ultimately, the bill advanced by a 79-40 vote with final action scheduled for Thursday.

The legislature has passed similar legislation in each of the past two sessions, but could not override Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto, which requires 84 votes in the House.

“Let’s hope third time is the charm,” Rep. Barb Wasinger said in a meeting with House Republicans ahead of the debate. “You hear Ash Wednesday.”

Wasinger, a Republican from Hays, led the charge to pass House Bill 2238, which would limit participation in women’s sports to female students born with female reproductive systems. The law would apply to just two students in Kansas, according to the Kansas State High School Activities Association.

In Wasinger’s words, “biological men shouldn’t compete with women.”

Men have stronger bodies, stronger bones and better cardiovascular health, Wasinger said.

“They can only do better,” he told colleagues.

Rep. Chuck Smith, R-Pittsburg, said he asked Kansas State High School Activities Association officials why this issue affects so few students in Kansas. The answer, Smith said, is that local school leaders help guide decisions about who participates in sports.

“If a boy can dominate a girl’s sport, the school shouldn’t let her play,” Smith said.

Wasinger replied: “Well, that’s a good fairy tale. Handsome.”

His Republican colleagues burst out laughing.

Later, during the floor debate, Boog Highberger Rep. D-Lawrence suggested the laughter wouldn’t stop.

“This bill is so 2021,” Highberger said. “They’ll start laughing at you behind your back at some of those conferences you go to: ‘Psst: did you hear that? Is Kansas Still Working On Trans Sports Law? My God!’ You and I know this bill is about a made-up problem.

Meyer objected to hypothetical examples proposed by Republicans where men would suddenly decide to identify as women in order to have a competitive advantage. That’s not how it works, Meyer said.

“Ain’t there a kid who’s going to say, ‘You know what? I want to be more competitive in sports, so I will become a woman.’ That doesn’t happen,” Meyer said. “This is absolutely ridiculous. There hasn’t been a single case that has occurred. None.”

Rep. Susan Ruiz, a Shawnee Democrat and member of the LGBTQ community, said “you know you’re in a marginalized group because your rights are voted on every two years.”

He reminded lawmakers that the model legislation was a product of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a group that claims a “homosexual agenda” will destroy Christianity and society. The attention the group has received from promoting a ban on transgender athletes, which appeals to a vast misunderstanding of what it means to be transgender, has inspired other groups to join the cause.

“These hate groups have found traction using girls and women in sports as a way to influence lawmakers to pass laws banning transgender girls from competing in sports with cisgender girls,” Ruiz said.

The matter has proved lucrative for fundraising efforts, he added.

Rep. Brandon Woodard, D-Lenexa, questioned Wasinger about how children should prove their gender if challenged. Wasinger was forced to admit that the bill would require a physical exam.

“It would be subjecting women to a genital exam to play sports,” Woodard said. “Don’t talk to me about female propriety up here. You all would not even bear that women can have the right to vote during the State of the State. How dare you.”

His comment was a reference to the governor’s State of the State address, in which only Democrats provided standing ovations.

Woodard, who is also a member of the LGBTQ community, said Republicans won’t even grant a hearing on legislation that would protect against discrimination — “but sure, we pass bills that target two people in Kansas.”

“Just for simply trying to organize testimony I’ve been called a ‘paedophile,’ a ‘groomer,’ and a subpoena, so I’m not hammered, ‘faggot,'” Woodard said. “This is the rhetoric that is happening because of what you are all doing. Stop passing bills like this. Focus on actually helping Kansas.

Clarke Sanders Rep. R-Salina pointed out that the text of the bill does not include the word “transgender” or “LGBTQ.”

“It just says that biological males shouldn’t be allowed to compete on biological women’s teams,” Sanders said.

Rep. Lindsay Vaughn, D-Overland Park, said the inequities she faced as a high school athlete “had nothing to do with the content of this bill.”

“We had secondhand uniforms, we often shared practice space, and our events were never promoted as much as the boys’ teams,” Vaughn said. “So if we really cared about equity in women’s sports, why aren’t we advocating for equal funding and resources for female athletes?

“Or what’s more, why don’t we demand equal pay for professional female athletes? Or why aren’t we fighting to eliminate or extend the statute of limits on child sexual abuse cases to seek justice for the many female athletes who were sexually abused as children? The reason is because this bill is not about equity. It’s about discrimination.”

As Rep. Jerry Stogsdill, D-Prairie Village, put it: “This is a shameful piece of legislation: hateful, bigoted and dangerous. It’s more about promoting an extremist political agenda than it is about women’s sports.”

At the end of the debate, Wasinger lamented the insult she had endured.

“Today I was just called a bigot, a misogynist, an extremist, a disgrace and a hateful guy, and I’m offended because I haven’t been hateful to anyone in this body,” Wasinger said.

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