BY ELLINOR COUCHMAN
On April 27, the Kansas House of Representatives voted to override Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto on SB180 – the “Women’s Bill of Rights.” The bill’s expressed goal is to provide “a meaning of biological sex for purposes of statutory construction” and directly combats social transitioning procedures for transgender people.
The act will disassemble existing provisions to amend state documents from one gender marker to another. In other words, once the bill takes effect on July 1, driver’s licenses and birth certificates can no longer reflect the gender identities of transgender people.
With that legal rigidity, Kansas legislators can construct additional bills around such strict definitions for the purposes of exclusion in single-sex spaces. Spaces proposed in the bill include “athletics, prisons or other detention facilities, domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers, locker rooms, and restrooms,” making SB180 a legal foundation for the greater process of systemic separation with regard to biological sex. As the bill says in subsection six, “separate accommodations are not inherently unequal.”
Additional bills codifying this separation are likely to follow. The bill’s far-reaching implications are unprecedented in the United States, but it’s far from an isolated case. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), SB180 is one of nearly 500 state-level bills directly regarding transgender people in the 2023 legislative session alone – 13 of which affect Kansans.
Kansas HB2238, the congruent “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” also passed in a veto override on April 5 – “restricting participation on women’s teams to female students” and “providing a cause of action for violations of the act.”
Other bills currently in the Kansas House and Senate, such as SB12 and SB233, seek to criminalize transgender healthcare for those under the age of 21. This is an escalation from existing bills in other states with similar recently-passed legislation, like Kentucky and South Dakota, which restrict transgender healthcare to minors under the age of 18.
This is a result of Kansas’ veto-proof Senate and House of Representatives. Gov. Kelly has vetoed every bill seeking to restrict transgender people thus far, but both seats of government have a Republican two-thirds majority.
Every Kansas bill regarding transgender people has been overwhelmingly partisan, but in SB180’s history, five representatives and one senator voted against party lines.
- Rep. Jesse Borjon [R] (District 52; Topeka suburbs)
- Rep. Ford Carr [D] (District 84; downtown Wichita)
- Rep. Marvin Robinson II [D] (District 35; Northern Kansas City)
- Rep. Mark Schreiber [R] (District 60; Emporia)
- Rep. David Younger [R] (District 124; the southwestern corner of Kansas)
- Sen. John Doll [R] (District 39; the southwestern corner of Kansas)
In the House Final Action on March 29, SB180 only passed 83-41 – one vote short of the veto-proof two-thirds majority. In the House Motion to override Gov. Kelly’s veto; however, Rep. Borjon and Rep. Carr realigned with their respective parties, and the previously absent Rep. Samantha Poetter (District 6; Paola) gave the Kansas House exactly enough votes to make the difference.
Riley Gaines, a former NCAA swimmer and spokesperson for the nonprofit Independent Women’s Voice network, wrote an open testimony in support of the bill on March 6. Gaines discusses her famous 200-yard freestyle race with transgender swimmer Lia Thomas as the reason for her endorsement.
“In addition to being forced to give up our awards, our titles, and our opportunities, we female swimmers were forced to share a locker room with Thomas, a 6’4” 22-year-old biological male equipped with (and exposing) male genitalia,” Gaines said.
Thomas is 6’1” according to the Washington Post – a notion that Gaines previously acknowledged but later denied. This has led to significant misinformation regarding Thomas’ height.
On April 27, Gaines publicly thanked Rep. Robinson, the sole Democrat who voted in favor of the override, and rallied her 560,000 Twitter followers to do the same. Rep. Barbara Wasinger (District 111; Hays), a vocal advocate for anti-trans legislation, liked Gaines’ tweet.
Rep. Robinson initially went along party lines in the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act;” however, when the time came to override, he switched affiliations to secure the two-thirds majority. In an interview with Yahoo News, Robinson, ultimately hoping for a compromise, attributed this change of heart to divine intervention.
“I’m not someone who hates anybody. We need to be trying to do that. I don’t know how we do that,” he said.
Former representative Stephanie Byers (District 86; downtown Wichita), the first and only transgender person elected to the Kansas legislature, viewed Gaines’ tweet with more scorn.
Kansas is now one of the most restrictive states in America for transgender people – a notion not lost on Fort Hays State University’s Gender-Sexuality Alliance (GSA).
- On March 7, the GSA hosted the “Write for our Rights” gathering–an event that sought to inspire attendees to write to local lawmakers about, among other bills, SB180.
- On March 25, GSA Vice President Kiernan McCarty, a transgender man, confronted Rep. Barb Wasinger about her endorsement of key anti-trans legislation at the Ellis Legislative Coffee.
- On March 31, GSA members discussed the legislation and created protest signs for Transgender Day of Visibility.
- On April 1, GSA members attended the final Legislative Coffee at the Hays Public Library and questioned Rep. Wasinger, Rep. Ken Rahjes, and Sen. Rick Billinger about their stance on key anti-trans legislation.
- On April 6, the GSA Sponsored a “Transgender Forum” at the Hays Public Library to discuss anti-trans legislation.
- On April 7, the GSA Hosted a Drag Ball in the Memorial Union.
- On April 18, former GSA Treasurer Charlie Schmanke brought some members to protest anti-trans legislation at the Kansas capitol building.
- On April 21, the GSA attended the LGBTQ+ Leadership Conference at Kansas State University, and Vice President Kiernan McCarty hosted a presentation on his experience fighting against anti-trans legislation. Among those in attendance was keynote speaker, former representative Byers.
- On April 22, the GSA participated in Little Apple Pride 2023.
In light of these efforts, SB180’s passage dealt a blow to the organization’s members. Teilee Brunson-Williams, a trans man and treasurer-elect for the GSA, echoed further concerns at the club’s following meeting.
“I have not wanted to physically transition as much as I have since these bills have come out. (…) That’s what causes more de-transitioners (…) because it forces people who are on the fence to make a quick decision instead of just having time to explore gender like we truly all should truly have the opportunity to,” he said.
Schmanke, a trans man and GSA’s previous treasurer added his perspective in passing the torch.
“As a brief de-transitioner, I can attest too. It wasn’t because I was any less trans than I was at the beginning; it was because of the societal pressure,” he said.
While SB180’s narrow passage will have long-lasting implications for transgender Kansans, it’s still only the third of 13 trans-related bills currently going through the Kansas legislature, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Time will tell if the Republican supermajority will be enough to pass further legislation.
*Disclaimer: This article was written by a transgender woman. I am a member of Fort Hays State University’s Gender-Sexuality Alliance. I began hormone replacement therapy when I was under 21 years old, and I amended my Kansas driver’s license from ‘M’ to ‘F’ in 2022*