The Four States NPR News Source
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Updated 06/06/2024 - KRPS 89.9 FM is broadcasting at 100% power

A year since Kansas banned trans athletes in women's sports, how is the law being enforced?

Kansas state Rep. Heather Meyer wants to see the transgender athlete ban law repealed.
Kansas News Service
Kansas state Rep. Heather Meyer wants to see the transgender athlete ban law repealed.

A survey of Kansas high schools and major universities failed to find an instance where someone was turned away from a sport because of the 2023 law. But it may have had a chilling effect discouraging transgender athletes from trying out in the first place.

It’s been a year since Kansas lawmakers banned transgender women from women’s sports in schools or colleges.

But the hotly debated issue — banning trans female athletes from girls’ and women’s sports has been a pet issue of Republican-controlled legislatures across the country — appears to have had little practical effect so far in Kansas.

A check by The Beacon of the state high school athletics association and most of the major universities in Kansas failed to find an instance where someone was turned away from a sport because of the new law.

That law may have a chilling effect that would discourage a transgender athlete from trying out for a field hockey or softball team. But even when the issue first roiled the Kansas Legislature, the Kansas State High School Activities Association knew of only three transgender women in sports as of April 2023. Two graduated last year and only one might have been affected by a ban.

Kansas Democrats successfully swatted away multiple attempts to ban transgender girls and women — identified at birth as male — from female sports. They saw a ban as a mean-spirited attack on transgender women that addressed a nonexistent problem. Republicans pushed the ban as a way to protect girls and women from having to compete against boys and men in sports.

Rep. Heather Meyer, an Overland Park Democrat and the mother of a transgender child, said she was “sitting here in tears” when it finally passed.

“All I see is people saying they hate my child,” she said at the time.

The Beacon’s check for any specific cases of athletes getting banned has its limits. For instance, we did not call all the dozen-plus community colleges.

Rep. Susan Humphries, a Wichita Republican, said the law is working whether anyone gets officially banned or not. She said transgender women may have decided to switch to male teams and didn’t need to be officially told what to do.

Humphries said that people who identify as male at birth can be faster and stronger than biological women.

“We know (that in) the states that have not passed a law protecting girls and women, girls are being kicked off the medal podium,” Humphries said.

Geneticist Dr. Eric Vilain told NPR in 2023 that men have an edge over women and that edge only increases after puberty. However, Vilain said better nutrition, better coaching or training equipment also provide advantages, and there isn’t good evidence on how much of an advantage men have.

Even though the law hasn’t widely been enforced on individual athletes, Meyer said this is far from a victory.

“On the one hand, yes, I do feel better about it (not banning many students),” she said. “But on the other hand, I wonder really what the long-term effects are going to be if it really, truly is not affecting anyone.”

The law is discriminatory, Meyer said, and must be repealed. The lawmaker said it sends a harmful message to trans Kansans that threatens their mental health. Transgender people have higher rates of depression and anxiety, studies show.

A 2023 study published in the National Library of Medicine found that 33.3% of transgender people likely had depression and 29.6% likely had anxiety — 21.4% of those studied had both.

Meyer also worries this will convince transgender athletes not to play sports at all.

This law is one part of a larger effort to legislate the lives of transgender Kansans. The Legislature also passed a Women’s Bill of Rights that bars transgender women from women’s spaces, like certain domestic violence shelters and bathrooms.

The Legislature was also a few votes short of banning gender-affirming care for transgender minors.

Republicans say they’re trying to protect women and children. Some reject the science supporting transgender identities.

Meyer said limits on transgender rights take a toll even for those who have no interest in athletic competition.

“When we attack these smaller minority groups,” she said, “we’re creating a culture of hatred.”

This story was originally published by The Beacon Kansas City, a fellow member of the KC Media Collective.

Copyright 2024 KCUR 89.3

Blaise Mesa