TOPEKA, Kan. – Kansas’ Democratic governor on Thursday vetoed a sweeping set of anti-transgender measures, including a ban on gender-affirming care for children and teenagers, but the Republican lawmakers who pushed them appeared to have the votes to override most of her actions.
Gov. Laura Kelly rejected restrictions for transgender people in using restrooms, locker rooms and other public facilities; limits on where they are housed in state prisons and county jails; and even restrictions on rooming arrangements for transgender youth on overnight school trips.
Her actions highlighted how her Republican-leaning state has become a fiercely contested battleground as GOP lawmakers across the U.S. target LGBTQ+ rights through several hundred proposals. Kelly narrowly won reelection in November, but the Legislature has GOP supermajorities and conservative leaders who have made rolling back transgender rights a priority.
The measures on bathrooms, jails and overnight school trips passed earlier this month with the two-thirds majorities needed to override a veto, and on April 5, lawmakers overrode Kelly's March veto of a separate ban on female transgender athletes in girls' and women's sports. However, two days later, the measure on gender-affirming care fell 12 House votes short of a supermajority.
Kelly said in statement on the four vetoes that measures “stripping away rights” would hurt the state's ability to attract businesses. The vetoes also were in keeping with her promises to block any measure she views as discriminating against LGBTQ+ people.
“Companies have made it clear that they are not interested in doing business with states that discriminate against workers and their families," Kelly said in her statement. “I’m focused on the economy. Anyone care to join me?”
At least 14 states with GOP-led legislatures have enacted laws against gender-affirming care for minors, including North Dakota as of Wednesday. At least seven have bathroom laws, mostly focusing on schools, and at least 21 have imposed restrictions on transgender athletes.
The Kansas bathroom bill would have applied not only to bathrooms and locker rooms outside schools but rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters and state prisons, as well as the county jails covered by a separate vetoed bill. Because it also sought to define “sex” as “either male or female, at birth,” transgender people wouldn’t have been able to change the gender marker on their driver’s licenses, though a 2019 federal court decree still would have allowed them to change their birth certificates.
Advocates of LGBTQ+ rights see the measure as legally erasing transgender people and denying recognition to non-binary, gender-fluid or gender non-conforming people.
“I am not going to go back to those days of hiding in the closet,” Justin Brace, executive director of Transgender Kansas, said during a recent transgender rights rally outside the Statehouse. “We are in a fight for our lives, literally.”
GOP conservatives argue that many of their constituents reject the cultural shift toward accepting that people’s gender identities can differ from the sex assigned them a birth; don't want cisgender women sharing bathrooms and locker rooms with transgender women; and question gender-affirming care such as puberty-blocking drugs, hormone therapies and surgeries.
“By any reasonable standard, governing from the middle of the road should include ensuring vulnerable children do not become victims of woke culture run amok,” Kansas Senate President Ty Masterson said in a statement deriding Kelly's veto of the ban on gender-affirming care.
That Kansas measure would have required the state's medical board to revoke the license of any doctor discovered to have provided such care and allowed people who received such care as children to sue health care providers later.
Supporters said the bill would not keep transgender youth from receiving counseling or psychiatric therapy. But the measure also applied to “causing” acts that "affirm the child’s perception of the child’s sex” if it differs from their gender assigned at birth.
Treatments for children and teens have been available in the U.S. for more than a decade and are endorsed by major medical associations.
“It’s one thing to have a family member that’s unaffirming of who you are as a person,” said Derrick Jordan, a licensed therapist who works with trans youth and directs the Gender and Family Project at New York’s Ackerman Institute for training child and family therapists. “It’s a whole other thing to have a system tell you you’re not fully human or you don’t have the same rights as other folks.”
Kelly’s office said the Kansas bathroom bill would have complicated the administration of multiple state programs — including programs assisting women farmers and hunters. Also, it said, some of those programs would have violated federal anti-discrimination laws, and the state could have lost federal dollars.
The measure borrows language from a proposal from several anti-trans groups. It says the “important governmental objectives" of protecting health safety and privacy justify separate public facilities for men and women and the measure would have applied “where biology, safety or privacy” prompt sex-separation. It defines male and female based on a person’s reproductive anatomy at birth.
While supporters of the legislation avoid calling it a bathroom bill, they have said repeatedly that it would have prevented transgender women from sharing bathrooms, locker rooms and other facilities with cisgender women.
Masterson portrayed Kelly's veto as “not being able to define a woman." That's a widespread anti-trans talking point at odds with doctors who say that reproductive anatomy at birth doesn’t always align with strict definitions of sex and that binary views of sexual identity can miss biological nuances.
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