TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas’ Democratic governor on Thursday vetoed Republican legislation aimed at ending gender-affirming care for children and teens, and another, sweeping GOP proposal for preventing transgender people from using bathrooms and other public facilities associated with their gender identities.
Gov. Laura Kelly also vetoed a third GOP bill that specifically would have prevented jails from housing transgender prisoners in units consistent with their gender identities and a fourth measure that would have barred schools from allowing transgender girls from rooming with cisgendered girls, and transgender boys with cisgender boys, on overnight 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 the Legislature has GOP supermajorities and conservative leaders who’ve made rolling back transgender rights a priority.
The bills on bathrooms, jails and overnight school trips passed earlier this month with the two-thirds majorities needed to override a veto, but the measure on gender-affirming care did not, falling 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. Earlier this month, Kansas lawmakers overrode Kelly’s veto of a ban on female transgender athletes in girls’ and women’s sports, making Kansas among at least 21 states with such a law.
The Kansas bathroom bill would have applied to bathrooms and locker rooms outside schools, as well as to prisons, jails, rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters. 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 license, 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 cisgendered women sharing bathrooms and locker rooms with transgender women; and question gender-affirming care such as puberty-blocking drugs, hormone therapies and surgeries.
“They’re parents who are saying, ‘My child showed no signs of gender dysphoria until they got to be in middle school, and then they started using social media,’” Republican state Rep. Susan Humphreys, of Wichita, said during a debate on the gender-affirming care bill, promoting a “social contagion” narrative debunked by multiple studies.
The 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 applies 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.”
The Kansas bathroom bill borrows language from a proposal from several anti-trans groups. It says “important governmental objectives” of protecting health safety and privacy justify separate public facilities for men and women and applies “where biology, safety or privacy” prompt sex-separation. It defines male and female based on a person’s reproductive anatomy at birth.
Kansas House health committee Chair Brenda Landwehr told colleagues who opposed the bill during a debate that they were telling her that she couldn’t walk into a bathroom and know that only cisgendered women would be there.
“What about my rights? What about my comfort zone?” said Landwehr, a Wichita Republican. “What about my granddaughters?”
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