TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas bill that would bar transgender people from using public bathrooms or changing their name or gender on their driver's license cleared the GOP-controlled Legislature on Tuesday by margins suggesting backers could override Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s expected veto.
The state Senate voted 28-12 with one vote more than a two-thirds majority that would be needed to overturn any veto, giving final passage to an earlier House-passed version of the legislation and sending it to the governor.
The measure deals with bathrooms, locker rooms and other facilities, and defines “sex” as “either male or female, at birth,” a move LGBTQ+-rights advocates said would legally erase transgender people and deny recognition to non-binary, gender fluid and gender non-conforming people.
The sweeping transgender bill, one of the broadest of its kind in the nation, is among several hundred measures aimed at rolling back LGBTQ rights pursued by Republicans this year across the United States.
Seven states elsewhere have enacted laws banning transgender students from using school bathrooms and locker rooms associated with their gender identities, most recently Kentucky. However, the Kansas measure also covers prisons, jails, rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters and other spaces “where biology, safety or privacy” prompt separate facilities for men and women. It defines male and female based on a person’s physical anatomy at birth.
“I am what they are scared of,” Ian Benalcazar, a 13-year-old transgender boy from Lawrence in northeast Kansas said at a recent LGBTQ-rights rally outside the Statehouse. “I am a human being and I deserve to be treated as such, and I deserve to be happy. I shouldn’t have to argue for this."
The Kansas bill's supporters framed their measure as a proposed “Women's Bill of Rights,” similar to measures introduced in Congress and at least five other states. It was based on language circulated by several national anti-trans groups.
Senate President Ty Masterson, a Wichita-area Republican, said lawmakers are trying to protect families amid what people see as a small but growing number of cases of transgender girls or women using facilities with cisgendered girls or women.
“People are starting to pay attention,” Masterson said. “There have been enough problems that several members of our body are interested in finding solutions.”
The state Senate vote on Tuesday approved a version of the bill passed by the House last week, advancing it to the governor's desk.
House members included provisions requiring accommodations for some intersex people, who are born with chromosomes, genitalia, or reproductive organs not associated with typical definitions for males or females.
The House vote last month was 83-41, one vote shy of the two-thirds majority necessary to override a veto, but one conservative Republican who is likely to support the bill was absent.
Kelly vetoed a proposed ban on transgender athletes in girls' and women's sports this year for the third year in a row. Republican lawmakers in Kansas also are pursuing a bill aimed at stopping gender-affirming care for minors, something at least 11 states have done.
The governor promised LGBTQ youth lobbying lawmakers last week that she would “protect your rights” and "veto any bill that aims to harm or discriminate against you.”
The measure now headed to Kelly would declare that legally, “sex” means “biological” sex, “either male or female, at birth.” It says females have a reproductive system “developed to produce ova,” while males have one “developed to fertilize the ova.”
The measure says having separate spaces for men and women, such as bathrooms and locker rooms, is justified by “the important governmental objectives of protecting the health, safety and privacy.”
“This will protect women's spaces currently reserved for women and and men's spaces currently reserved for men,” House Health Committee Chair Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican, said in explaining her “yes” vote for the bill last week.
Doctors say reproductive anatomy at birth doesn’t always align with strict definitions of sex and that binary views of sexual identity can miss biological nuances.
Carson Rapp, a Wichita-area 15-year-old who identifies as bigender or embracing “both more masculine and more feminine traits," said people expressing their gender identities don't harm others.
“Why stop people from doing it if they’re just being themselves and having fun and expressing themselves?” Carson said during last week's LGBTQ-youth lobbying day.
LGBTQ-rights advocates say having a driver’s license or birth certificate confirm a transgender person’s identity is important by itself but also can prevent daily hassles or harassment. The bill’s language would prevent transgender people from changing both driver's licenses and birth certificates, but Kansas is under a 2019 federal court order to allow birth certificate changes.
Carson's father, Will Rapp, the Kansas managing director for GLSEN, a group advocating for LGBTQ youth, said it's discouraging to see lawmakers pursue what he sees as “pretty awful” legislation.
But he added: “I would like to think that if they were to get to know these young people, that would change their hearts, and we will always have hope for that.”
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