Kansas legislators have overridden Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of an anti-transgender school sports bill, making it law.
Last month Kelly vetoed House Bill 2238, marking the third consecutive year she had vetoed anti-trans sports legislation. Override attempts in the Republican-dominated legislature failed in 2021 and 2022, as some moderate Republicans supported Kelly. But this year Republicans mustered the two-thirds majority needed for the override because one Democrat joined them, and both the House and Senate approved the override Tuesday.
The law bars trans girls and women from competing on female sports teams in K-12 schools, clubs, and public colleges. It takes effect July 1.
Kelly had called the legislation “unnecessary and divisive,” as the state has genuine issues to address and there are only three trans athletes playing school sports in Kansas.
The Democrat who voted to override the bill is freshman Rep. Marvin Robinson of Kansas City. “Robinson has voted in support of other anti-transgender bills, though he was in opposition to the transgender athletes ban initially, and has developed a close relationship with GOP legislators, much to the chagrin of Democrats,” The Topeka Capital-Journal reports.
After the override vote, Robinson told reporters he had been threatened by opponents of the bill. “It was all or none,” he said. “Then they started getting rude and insulting and threatening to take me down. My God, what do you do. I've gone through various through lines to ask for a divine intervention on this. I'm not someone who hates anybody.”
Another Democrat, Rep. Ford Carr of Wichita, had voted for the bill the first time around but voted against overriding Kelly’s veto. He objected to the inclusion of early grades in the legislation. “I don’t believe it is fair for young men and young ladies to compete in sports where there is a definite physical and biological difference,” he said, according to the Capital-Journal. “However, that being said, I have issues with those small children that will be included in the bill.”
Two House Republicans broke with their party and voted against the override, but because of Robinson, the override succeeded. Kansas joins 19 other states with trans-exclusionary sports laws.
Former Rep. Stephanie Byers, a Democrat who was the first trans state legislator in Kansas, denounced the lawmakers’ action. “You watch them begin to curtail the rights that people have, even if it’s something as simple as the right to be themselves in athletics, and to do so even though it ignores the science,” she told the Capital-Journal. “Even though it ignores the recommendations of medical, even though they understand that it will drive an increase in suicide rates among trans youth in Kansas.”
Kansas lawmakers have also approved an anti-trans “bathroom bill,” barring trans people from using the restrooms and changing rooms consistent with their gender identity at a variety of sites, and a ban on gender changes on legal documents. Kelly is expected to veto the legislation, but an override is likely.
Cathryn Oakley, the Human Rights Campaign’s state legislative director and senior counsel, released a statement condemning the trans sports measure.
“Kansas legislators have a responsibility to address the real problems facing their communities and the constituents they serve,” Oakley said. “However, anti-equality legislators have clearly indicated that manufacturing issues in order to sanction discrimination under the law is more important than the well-being of a marginalized group of children. Transgender students participate in school sports for the same reason other kids do — to learn sportsmanship, self-discipline and teamwork, and to have fun. With her veto, Governor Kelly sent a clear message that transgender kids are kids, and that they are owed the same dignity and respect as their peers.
“However, legislators, desperate in their attempt to appeal to the far fringes of their base, willfully ignored this fact by pushing this bill into law. Transgender youth will now experience more shame, stigma, and isolation at an age when they’re in most need of connection with their peers. LGBTQ+ Kansans aren’t going anywhere and we will keep fighting back for as long as these attacks continue.”