Earlier this month, it was Anti-Transgender Week in the Kansas Legislature. Lawmakers were holding hearings on three bills aimed at ostracizing the state’s transgender residents.
The first was HB2238, which received a public hearing in the House Education Committee on February 13. It would require students in public high schools and universities to play sports associated with their “biological sex,” at least if he is male. In other words, no one who transitioned into women would be allowed to play in the women’s leagues. Oddly, lawmakers are less concerned about athletes identified as female at birth who play men’s sports.
No major threat to Kansas justifies the fanaticism disguised as protection of young female athletes. According to hearing testimony, there are only two girls registered with the Kansas State High School Activities Association to which the bill could apply. If they were out there breaking records, as one speaker noted at the hearing, that would be front page news.
Supporters don’t care. It is possible that a young athlete born female may one day fail to play because someone who was identified as male at birth takes a spot on a team. They point to isolated incidents in remote states.
These incidents are real and there are nuances to the matter, but it’s not the Kansas legislature’s job to fix them. KSHSAA, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the International Olympic Committee and other organizations that oversee athletics are already grappling with how to maintain fair competition among transgender athletes. They are the experts and they are adapting. They don’t need the meddling of legislators.
The cost of such interference is high. Bills like this send a powerful and dire message to Kansan youth struggling with their gender identity: You are not welcome to fully participate in your state.
Briana McGeough, an LGBTQ mental health expert at the University of Kansas School of Social Welfare who specializes in working with LGBTQ youth, testified, “This bill has the potential to harm transgender youth who aren’t even interested in participate in sports because it serves to codify stigma and discrimination against transgender people.These types of bills in other contexts have been linked to increased risk of depression, anxiety, and (suicide risk) among transgender people.
The Kansas Division of Budget in its fiscal analysis of the bill warns of other problems. There would almost certainly be a lawsuit that sucked up state resources. The NCAA may choose not to host events in Kansas.
The bill sends a message: Don’t come to Kansas unless you conform to our antiquated and scientifically invalidated views on gender.
To complete the futility, Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed a similar bill last year. The legislature did not have the votes to override her veto.
Drag show, targeted choice of personal pronoun
Two other anti-transgender bills had hearings scheduled last week. SB233 would allow Kansans to sue physicians who provide gender-affirming medical treatments and revoke those physicians’ medical licenses. SB180 would require public agencies to identify individuals based only on their “biological sex, male or female, at birth.”
This isn’t just an anti-transgender week in Topeka. Conservative Kansas lawmakers will be bashing the state’s LGBTQ residents for months with a half-dozen anti-LGBTQ bills targeting drag shows (SB201 and SB149), students’ personal choice of their pronouns (SB207), and more.
Nor is bigotry limited to Kansas. Lawmakers in Missouri and Oklahoma are considering dozens of their own anti-LGBTQ laws. In fact, Missouri lawmakers are hoping to unite Florida with arguably the toughest “Don’t Say Gay” bill yet. One could almost suspect that there is a coordinated national attempt to create hysteria among Republican voters over an LGBTQ bogeyman.
At the October 2017 Values Voter Summit, an annual strategy session of the arch-anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council, activist Meg Kilgannon outlined a “divide and conquer” strategy to strike at the rights of transgender Americans. “For all its recent success, the LGBT alliance is actually fragile,” she told conference attendees, “and trans activists need the gay rights movement to help legitimize them. Gender identity alone is just a bridge too far. If you separate the T from the alphabet soup, we will be more successful.
Anti-LGBTQ laws introduced in nearly every state legislature have striking similarities. Most won’t pass, although states like Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma have a better chance given the partisan makeup of those legislatures. They are part of a national push to dampen fear of non-existent threats and to marginalize a vulnerable community. Surely lawmakers have a more important job to do.