Sweeping transgender 'bathroom bill' passes in Kansas; lawmakers may override governor's veto

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Kansas lawmakers voted Tuesday to pass sweeping legislation targeting transgender people, prohibiting them from using bathrooms that align with their gender identities and preventing them from changing their names or genders on driver's licenses. The bill is expected to be vetoed by Gov. Laura Kelly, but the Republican-led Legislature could override a veto.

While the vote was the first on several on anti-transgender bills expected this week, the proposal, Senate Bill 180, would break new ground. It would define "sex" as "either male or female, at birth," in state law and require that government statisticians count people based on their sex assigned at birth and would prevent public documents, including birth certificates, from being changed to reflect a person's gender identity.

Two Democrats voted for the bill in the Kansas House last week, giving lawmakers a path to a veto-proof majority in that chamber. When the Senate considered the bill Tuesday, it approved the legislation on a 28-12 vote, a margin that would clear the bar needed to overturn a veto.

The move comes amid a wave of anti-transgender legislation in largely red states. Lawmakers in Iowa recently passed a bathroom bill targeting transgender students and staff in public schools. States including Missouri, Tennessee, Utah, Mississippi and South Dakota have all banned gender-affirming health care for transgender youth or are considering measures to do so this year. According to the Human Rights Campaign, more than 400 anti-LGBTQ bills are being tracked in 2023.

Critics worry the Kansas bill will dehumanize and deny recognition to transgender, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming people. Nearly 200 transgender people and their allies rallied at the Kansas Statehouse last week to urge lawmakers to reject the measure.

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"We are in a fight for our lives," Justin Brace, executive director of Transgender Kansas, said at the rally.

Lawmakers in favor of the bill said the language is necessary to protect women in public facilities and that it doesn't directly discuss transgender people. Critics counter that the argument is a facade.

"We talk about rights," Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, said on the House floor last week. "What is the rights of a woman? You are saying I have no more rights. I cannot go into a woman’s bathroom and know that a male will not walk into that bathroom. What about my rights? What about my comfort zone? What about my granddaughters, what about their rights?"

Eight states across the country have laws restricting bathroom access for adults on the basis of transgender identity, while an additional 10 states do so only for students in K-12 schools. Lawmakers in Oklahoma have approved a measure similar to Kansas' proposal that extends to other public facilities and services. The Kansas measure includes prisons, rape and domestic violence centers and shelters, and other spaces where "biology, safety or privacy" require separate facilities.

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Kansas lawmakers are expected to try later this week to override Kelly's veto on a bill banning transgender athletes in women's sports with their most viable path yet to overturning Kelly's veto after two years of coming up short.

Lawmakers amended the bathroom bill in the House to state that people who are intersex – whose genitalia, chromosomes or internal sex organs don't align with typical definitions of male or female – would be able to access legal protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act or similar state-level statutes.

Kelly has sharply criticized the Legislature's focus on anti-transgender bills this session.

"I will continue to stand up for you, protect your rights and call out and condemn any speech or behavior or veto any bill that aims to harm or discriminate against you," she said at a rally last week hosted by Equality Kansas at the Statehouse.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Transgender bathroom bill passed in Kansas; gov. expected to veto