‘What is a woman?’: Kansas could be the first state to decide

‘What is a woman?’: Kansas could be the first state to decide

‘WHAT IS A WOMAN?’ — Just days before House Republicans passed their bill that would restrict transgender students from playing on women’s sports teams, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona was pressed by GOP lawmakers to answer a question that they’ve asked time and time again: “What is a woman?”

— “Can you please tell me or can you please define for me, what is a woman?” Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) asked during a charged probing of the secretary. The Republican lawmaker, along with others during the House Appropriations Education Department budget hearing, squeezed Cardona on the Biden administration’s Title IX proposal that allows transgender girls to play on sports teams consistent with their gender identity albeit with some limitations.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona testifies during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing to discuss reopening schools during the COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021, at Capitol Hill in Washington. (Greg Nash/Pool via AP)

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona | AP

— Cardona’s response left Clyde flustered. “Our focus at the department is to provide equal access to students, including students who are LGBTQ, access free from discrimination,” Cardona said, aligning his answer with the definition of Title IX, the federal education law that prohibits sex-based discrimination.

To which Clyde responded: “So what’s the definition of a woman? You haven’t given me that.”

— The exchange channels a line of questioning Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) led against Ketanji Brown Jackson during her nomination for the Supreme Court. It was also a part of the GOP’s criticism of President Joe Biden in their rebuttal to his State of the Union address, when Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders called Biden “the first man to surrender his presidency to a woke mob that can’t even tell you what a woman is.”

— Now, it’s a key line of questioning that has taken hold of several conservative-run statehouses across the country that have introduced bills that aim to binarily define sex on biological lines. (Your host and POLITICO’s Marissa Martinez noted this could be a trend in December 2022. Here’s a refresher.) Republicans are leaning into transgender restrictions as part of their policy agenda because they see it as a way to energize their base and draw in some moderate voters ahead of the 2024 election.

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Driving the day

EYES ON KANSAS — Last week, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed restrictive transgender bills including S.B. 180, dubbed the “Women’s Bill of Rights.” Republican lawmakers — and a few Democrats — who cleared them out of the statehouse appear to have the votes to override Kelly’s veto, which means S.B. 180 could be the first law in the country to define sex in its state law. The Kansas state legislature has 30 calendar days from the day of Kelly’s veto to vote to override her decision, though the legislative session typically ends in early May.

FILE - Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly pauses while answering questions from reporters during an event at a women's shelter, Jan. 23, 2023, in Topeka, Kan. The Democratic governor has vetoed a Republican transgender bathroom bill and a GOP plan for ending gender-affirming care for trans youth. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly | AP

The measure, which cleared the Kansas House 83-41 (one vote shy of the veto proof majority) and passed the Senate 28-12, would define sex as an individual’s biological sex, either male or female, that is assigned at birth. A female would also be defined as someone “whose biological reproductive system is developed to produce ova.” The bill also defines “girl,” “woman,” and “mother,” among other terms.

— “I think and I hope there is a high likelihood of the Women’s Bill of Rights becoming law regardless, because there was a lot of support at the initial stage and I think it is common sense,” said May Mailman, senior legal fellow at Independent Women’s Law Center, a key group advocating for the legislation. “Even if you look at Biden’s Title IX proposed rule on sports, there is a recognition that there are differences between men and women.”

— Other states with similar measures, including Montana, are not far behind. And as previous legislative sessions have shown, this could just be the beginning for these bills before they fully proliferate in the states as the campaign trail heats up.

— LGBTQ rights advocates say the bill’s definition of gender discriminates against transgender individuals and looks to erase their existence under the law. The ACLU of Kansas has also slammed the bill as an attempt to “remove trans peoples’ ability to live a public life” by barring transgender people from athletics, restrooms, locker rooms, domestic violence shelters and other sex-separated spaces.

— “By vetoing a series of bills designed solely to discriminate against LGBTQ+ – particularly transgender – Kansans, [Kelly] rejected the politics of hate and division being perpetrated by the state legislature,” said Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director at the Human Rights Campaign.


ALABAMA OUSTS EARLY EDUCATION DIRECTOR — Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey replaced her director of early childhood education because of language about inclusion and structural racism in a teacher training book, the Associated Press reported. The Republican governor denounced the book as teaching “woke concepts.”

— “The education of Alabama’s children is my top priority as governor, and there is absolutely no room to distract or take away from this mission,” she said in a statement. “Let me be crystal clear: Woke concepts that have zero to do with a proper education and that are divisive at the core have no place in Alabama classrooms at any age level, let alone with our youngest learners.”

— Barbara Cooper, secretary of the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education, resigned over the criticism of the book entitled the National Association for the Education of Young Children Developmentally Appropriate Practice Book, 4th edition. The book is a guide for early childhood educators. Ivey spokesperson Gina Maiola told the AP that the books have been removed from state classrooms.

Transgender Students

DOCTORS TREATING TRANS KIDS FACE THREATS — Doctors who treat transgender children are receiving death threats, debating whether to buy guns, scouring the internet to see if they’ve been doxxed and trying to get their addresses removed from property records, POLITICO’s Megan Messerly reports.

— “I got an email telling me that I’m evil, I’m foolish, my work is opposing God, that I harm children, that I’m going to hell, and that I should die,” said Meredithe McNamara, an assistant professor of pediatrics who specializes in adolescent medicine at Yale University. “The threats, the harassment, the constant fear of, ‘Did I say that right? Is that OK? Should I have said that differently? Did I present my position in a public space as effectively as possible, and also did I say anything that is going to get my family targeted in some way?’”

— Doctors who provide this care say the gender-affirming care bans in Republican-controlled states are making it harder everywhere for transgender youth to receive care and physicians to provide it. Even in states without bans, providers said threats, harassment and fear of litigation have created a chilling effect that undermines their ability to provide care.

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— President Joe Biden announced his intent to appoint 21 people to his “Commission on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence and Economic Opportunity for Black Americans.” Those appointed to the commission include National Education Association President Becky Pringle, National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education President Lezli Baskerville, Congressional Black Caucus Executive Director Vincent Evans and American Federation of Teachers Secretary-Treasurer Fedrick Ingram.

“We cannot be complacent when race and place remain such powerful factors in the availability of educational opportunity for our children,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement. “The expertise represented on this commission will be an invaluable resource to our Department and to the President as we work to Raise the Bar in education.”


— Florida at center of debate as school book bans surge nationally: The New York Times

— Confronting the ‘High School Cliff’: What young adults with disabilities need to succeed: Flatland KC

— At U.Va., an alumnus attacked diversity programs. Now he is on the board.: The New York Times

— ‘Abbott Elementary’ lets Black kids be kids: The Atlantic

— Does the strike at University of Michigan affect student grades? Both sides weigh in.: MLive

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