Kansas enacted what may be the most sweeping transgender bathroom law in the US on Thursday after Republican lawmakers overrode the Democratic governor’s veto of the measure.
The state’s governor, Laura Kelly, had blocked the bill, suggesting it was discriminatory and would hurt the state’s ability to attract businesses. But supporters had exactly the two-thirds majority they needed to pass the new law, which will take effect 1 July.
The legislation comes as conservative states across the US crackdown on trans rights with extreme laws restricting bathroom access and banning gender-affirming care to minors, and severely restricting such treatment for adults. In Montana, Republicans barred a trans lawmaker from the statehouse floor after she told them they would have “blood on your hands” if they voted to ban gender-affirming medical care for trans children.
Kansas joins at least eight others states that have enacted laws preventing trans people from using the restrooms associated with their gender identities. Most of the laws apply to schools, but the Kansas legislation applies also to locker rooms, prisons, domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers. It is not clear how the new law will be enforced.
Jenna Bellemere, a 20-year-old trans University of Kansas student said the new law would make things “much more complicated and risky and unnecessarily difficult”.
“When I go out in public, like I’m at a restaurant or up on campus or whatever, and I need to go to the bathroom, there’s definitely going to be a voice in my head that says, ‘Am I going to get harassed for that?’” Bellemere said.
Republican legislators argued that they’re responding to concerns about trans women sharing bathrooms, locker rooms and other spaces with cisgender women and girls. They repeatedly promised that the bill would prevent that.
The Kansas house speaker, Dan Hawkins, told GOP colleagues after the vote that the override was “truly the icing on the cake” among conservative policy victories this year and said that he was “just giddy”.
The Kansas law is different than most other states’ laws in that it legally defines male and female based on the sex assigned at birth and declares that “distinctions between the sexes” in bathrooms and other spaces serves “the important governmental objectives” of protecting “health, safety and privacy”. Earlier this week, North Dakota enacted a law that prohibits trans children and adults from having access to bathrooms, locker rooms or showers in dormitories of state-run colleges and correctional facilities.
Kansas’ law doesn’t create a new crime, impose criminal penalties or fines for violations or even say specifically that a person has a right to sue over a trans person using a facility aligned with their gender identity. Many supporters acknowledged before it passed that they hadn’t considered how it will be administered.
The bill is written broadly enough to apply to any separate spaces for men and women and, Kelly’s office said, could prevent trans women from participating in state programs for women, including for female hunters and farmers. As written, it also prevents trans people from changing the gender markers on their driver’s licenses – though it wasn’t clear whether that change would occur without a lawsuit.
The new law is part of a larger push by Republicans across the US to roll back LGBTQ+ rights, particularly trans rights. At least 21 states, including Kansas, restrict or ban female transgender athletes’ participation in female sports. At least 14 states – but not Kansas – have restricted or banned gender-affirming care for minors.
Under the new law in Kansas, legally “sex” means “biological” sex, “either male or female, at birth,” though it allows accommodations for intersex people if their conditions are considered disabilities under US law. The law also declares strict definitions for females and males based on their reproductive systems.
Critics believe that the new law is an attempt to legally erase trans people and will prompt harassment of trans people as well as nonbinary, gender-fluid and gender-nonconforming people.
Ex-state representative Stephanie Byers, the first elected trans Kansas lawmaker who now lives in Texas, predicted that legal chaos is coming to her former home state.
While the attack on trans people is not physical, Byers said, “they’re taking us out in every possible way”.
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