TOPEKA, Kan. — Adam Kellogg was a self-described nerdy 16-year-old preparing to board a flight from Kansas City to Florida for a space and science field trip to Cape Canaveral when security held him for 30 minutes because his driver’s license identified him as female.
Three years later, the University of Kansas student’s driver’s license identifies him as male, but proposed laws in at least eight states could prevent transgender people like him from changing their driver’s licenses and birth certificates. The Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature is considering a bill that defines male and female in state law and bases people’s legal gender identity on their birth anatomy.
Nationwide, conservatives are pushing dozens of proposals in statehouses to limit transgender athletes, gender-affirming cures and drag shows. But in measures like Kansas, LGBTQ rights advocates see a radical new effort to erase the legal existence of trans people, deny recognition to non-binary or gender-fluid people, and ignore those who are intersex — people born with genitalia, reproductive organs, chromosomes, and/or hormone levels that do not match typical definitions of male or female.
“Something that’s really important to me is being able to just exist as a man, without even thinking about it,” Kellogg said this week as he toured the Statehouse with other transgender people and LGBTQ advocates.
Kellogg now laughs about his experience at the airport, but that was no laughing matter at the time. So, he tied up the breasts that he would later surgically remove and, “They thought I had a bomb strapped to me.”
Doctors say reproductive anatomy at birth doesn’t always align with strict definitions of sex, and that binary views of sexual identity can lose biological nuances.
LGBTQ rights advocates say having a driver’s license or birth certificate that confirms a transgender person’s identity is important in its own right, but it can also prevent day-to-day hassle or harassment. They also believe the Kansas bill would prevent transgender people from using restrooms and other facilities that align with their gender identities.
Republicans have put transgender issues at the center of their agenda, a tactic many observers see as an effort to keep conservative voters energized and to nudge Democrat-friendly voters on other issues in the GOP camp. In the Republican response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address, Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders mocked the Democratic president as “the first man to cede his presidency to a wakeful mob who can’t even tell you what a woman”.
The Kansas bill had a hearing Wednesday before the state Senate health care committee and is similar to a Republican measure introduced in the U.S. House last year. The Oklahoma Legislature is considering a similar proposal, while North Dakota lawmakers are considering a resolution that would urge public schools and other “public bodies” to distinguish “between the sexes based on biological sex at birth.” Mississippi lawmakers had three proposals like Kansas’s, but none have been made this year.
New Hampshire, Tennessee, and Texas also have proposals to define male and female in state law, and a Republican lawmaker in South Carolina has proposed an amendment to the state constitution to legally state that a person’s gender would be based on anatomy at birth. , not a “psychological, chosen, or subjective gender experience.”
“They’re afraid of what they don’t understand,” said Luc Bensimon, a transgender man who serves on the Topeka anti-discrimination commission and is an activist with the Black Trans Advocacy Coalition. “Anything or lifestyle that is different or out of the norm is not good.”
The Kansas measure would state that legally “sex” means “biological” sex, “male or female, at birth.” He says females have a reproductive system “developed to produce ova,” while males have one “developed to fertilize ova.”
It’s unclear how far the measure will go, though the state Senate committee could vote on it next week. Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly has twice vetoed bills to ban transgender athletes from girls’ and women’s clubs, K-12 and varsity sports, and opposes limiting gender-affirming assistance.
Supporters of the Kansas bill say they are responding to parents and others who feel uncomfortable with “biological men” or “biological boys” sharing spaces intended for women and girls, especially bathrooms and locker rooms, but also prisons and domestic violence shelters.
They’re also trying to frame the debate as protecting the rights of “biological” women, and the Kansas bill is called “The Women’s Bill of Rights.”
In Kansas, Republican state senator Renee Erickson, vice chair of the Senate health committee, has asked for sponsorship of the measure. A former college basketball player, she also led the push to restrict transgender athletes. She said defining male and female in state law would not prevent anyone from “living as they choose to live.”
In North Dakota, Republican State Representative SuAnn Olson denounced what she called “radical gender ideologues” and said she wanted to redefine womanhood as a subjective state. In Kansas, conservative activist and Statehouse lobbyist Phillip Cosby called youth’s increased identity as transgender or nonbinary “a social contagion.”
Dr. Kristyn Brandi, a fellow at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said she doesn’t automatically assume that female reproductive anatomy means female gender.
“It’s helpful to know what anatomical structures are present when I’m having an exam, when I’m recommending tests,” she said. “I often ask my patient, how does he like to be identified? and I go with that.”
Brandi also argued that proclaiming that sex is binary ignores the existence of intersex conditions and differences in gender identity.
At birth, the external genital anatomy can be ambiguous, sometimes due to differences in sexual development or intersex conditions, affecting about 1% of the population.
Intersex conditions can involve external genitalia that do not match a person’s sex chromosomes. In one condition, the testicles develop internally but the external genitalia and breasts look female. These babies are usually assigned a female at birth, but their bodies will never produce eggs.
“There’s variation,” Brandi said. “Not everyone fits exactly into this box.”
Jae Moyer, a Kansas City-area activist, has a driver’s license and birth certificate identifying them as male, although they do identify as non-binary. The Kansas measure appears designed to force them into “patterns that I personally don’t fit into.”
“They want to make sure that they take every avenue they can to just erase who I am as a person,” Moyer said
AP medical writer Lindsey Tanner in Chicago and AP reporter Margaret Stafford in Liberty, Missouri contributed to this report.