Kansas Senate passes bill impacting transgender youth, moves to House Education Committee

One hundred twenty-five seats fill the House of Representatives in the Kansas State Capitol to seat the legislators voted in every two years. (Archive photo by Evert Nelson | Collegian Media Group)

After passing in the Kansas Senate on March 22, 2022, Senate Bill 484 moved to the House Education Committee. The bill, titled the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” states that “athletic teams or sports designated for females, women or girls shall not be open to students of the male sex” and defines male and female based on biological sex, meaning transgender women would not be able to participate in women’s sports.

In a testimony addressed to the senate education committee, co-written by the Flint Hills Human Rights Project board, Rachel Levitt, professor in the Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies Department, said SB 484 would hurt transgender and gender non-conforming people.

“The ‘Fairness in Women’s Sports Act’ is a bill designed to make sports inaccessible to trans youth,” Levitt said, reciting the testimony. “SB 484 will force transgender girls — girls only because they don’t find trans men threatening because they still see trans men as girls, and girls are not threatening to boys — to play sports on boys and men’s teams or not at all.”

Adam Carr, program administrator for the Diversity and Multicultural Student Affairs office, said the bill attacks queer people in Kansas.

“There’s not actually many trans girls in our K-12 athletic league systems,” Carr said. “They’re spending all this time — really wasting time — for bills that have no prudence and really aren’t necessary because they really are a homophobic attack on queer people in the state.”

Like Carr, Levitt said legislation like SB 484 treats the trans community as disposable. According to the Trevor Project’s 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, more than half of transgender and non-binary youth have seriously considered suicide in the past 12 months.

“What’s starting to make sense is that there is a really firmly grounded belief in the disposability of certain populations,” Levitt said. “The statistics around their experience with suicide because they don’t feel like they have a future, and having a state legislature model that people in power don’t want them to have a future is absolutely devastating.”

Levitt said SB 484 is just one of several bills introduced in Kansas that would affect transgender people.

“This is the most transphobic legislative year on record in the history of the U.S.,” Levitt said. “That’s happening across all the states. We have kids that are growing up being targeted by people in power saying ‘You are a threat,’ and ‘You need to be excluded,’ and that’s heartbreaking.”

Among the bills introduced in Kansas is Senate Bill 214, which would make it a crime for a physician to perform gender reassignment surgery or hormone replacement therapy on certain children if enacted.

“Lack of access to sports, targeting their doctors, targeting their schools and their school teachers … puts a whole disparate spectrum of legislation together to make queer existence really hard, and some of it might pass,” Levitt said. “If it does, there’s a whole bunch of people who are working really hard to tell really young queer people, teenage queer people and young queer adults that we want them here and they’re doing really important work.”

Carr said many resources are available to the LGBTQ+ community in Manhattan and on campus, including the Flint Hills Human Rights Project, the LGBTQ Faculty and Staff Alliance and the LGBT Resource Center located in Holton Hall.

“Some of the things through the legislature and mass media can be a lot to handle, especially when you’re a queer student trying to get a degree and graduate,” Carr said. “The resource center is a great place for students to find community and have that space to be able to process what’s been going on.”

Levitt said two bills in Kansas are exciting for the transgender community.

“One allows for an ‘X’ option on gender markers for paperwork like driver’s licenses, so you don’t have to have an ‘M’ or an ‘F,’ you can have an ‘X,'” Levitt said. “The other one eliminates the civil statute of limitations for child sexual abuse. The reason that’s exciting is that often people argue transphobic laws are about protecting children from sexual predation — they never do. This actually does. At any point, you can go after the person that hurt you. That’s real accountability.”

Levitt said the community knows how to band together.

“This isn’t our first rodeo,” Levitt said. “The AIDS epidemic really showed that society was OK with gay people dying. We know how to rally together as a community to protect each other. We’ve got a lot of work to do, and there are people doing that work.”