An effort to ban trans kids from team sports failed this week in Kansas. After Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed Senate Bill 55, which is nearly identical to dozens of bills being considered in state legislatures across the US, the State Senate didn't have enough votes to override her decision.
Kansas Rep. Stephanie Byers told Insider that members of the state's legislature had used recent comments from California gubernatorial candidate Caitlyn Jenner to support their attempt to override the governor's veto.
Monday's vote came days after Jenner, the former Olympic athlete and reality star who came out publicly as a trans woman in 2015, said in an interview with TMZ she opposed transgender girls playing on sports teams with other girls.
Jenner, who in April launched a bid for California governor as part of the Republican effort to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom, echoed statements made by conservatives in favor of blocking trans girls from playing on girls' sports teams.
"This is a question of fairness," she said Saturday. "That's why I oppose biological boys who are trans competing in girls' sports in school. It just isn't fair. And we have to protect girls' sports in our schools."
While her comments contradicted those she made to Outsports in a 2020 interview, they were in line with GOP leaders, including former President Donald Trump who previously ranted to conservatives about the unfairness of having trans girls compete.
"What coach, as an example, wants to recruit a young woman to compete if her record can easily be broken by somebody who was born a man?" Trump said at a CPAC conference in February during his first speech post-presidency.
He had added: "If this does not change, women's sports as we know it will die."
Republicans in state legislatures across the country have turned their attention toward transgender youth. More than two dozen states have considered or passed some sort of anti-trans legislation this year. Last month, lawmakers in North Dakota failed to override a veto of a bill similar to the anti-trans legislation blocked in Kansas.
Some state leaders have pushed for more aggressive legislation that would bar doctors from providing trans youth with medical care. Lawmakers in Arkansas enacted such a law when the Republican state legislature overrode the governor's veto. While Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, called the bill "extreme" when he vetoed it, he signed into law another bill that banned trans girls from playing on girls' sports teams.
In total, five states have so far passed legislation barring trans girls from participating on girls' teams, including Arkansas, Mississippi, South Dakota, Tennessee, and West Virginia.
Byers said Jenner is wrong about the issue of fairness when it comes to these anti-trans bills, and doesn't speak for the trans community.
As the Associated Press reported earlier this year, state lawmakers who have proposed bills targeting young trans athletes struggle to name instances where trans youth have caused issues on sports teams.
"First of all, we know that she does not speak for the entire trans community," Byers said. "She, because of her celebrity status, was kind of placed in that position.
"And we've seen, over the years that she has brought some attention, especially to some of the struggles with trans youth, but oftentimes her celebrity status becomes the one thing she is most interested in," she added.
Jenner, a registered Republican, openly supported Trump during his 2016 campaign for office, Byers pointed out. After Trump was elected, however, Jenner spoke out against him when he barred trans people from serving in the US military. In 2018, she penned an op-ed in The Washington Post admitting she'd been wrong about Trump."Her statement really just seems to be more of: I'm Caitlyn Jenner. Look at me, pay attention to me," Byers said. "We're talking about values of the trans community. She does not represent the thoughts and thinking of the majority of people who are transgender."
"No one can accuse her of being anti-trans or interested in causing suicides, or whatever accusation they had of me for that," Senate President Ty Masterson, a Republican, said Monday before the vote, according to The Associated Press.
In vetoing the bill on April 22, Kelly, a Democrat, wrote the "legislation sends a devastating message that Kansas is not welcoming to all children and their families, including those who are transgender — who are already at a higher risk of bullying, discrimination, and suicide."
More than half of transgender and nonbinary youth have said they've considered suicide, according to a 2020 survey by The Trevor Project. And 86% of LGBTQ youth in the same survey said "recent politics have negatively impacted their well-being."
But the bills also come at a time when there are more LGBTQ people in government in the US than ever before. Byers last year was part of a group of lawmakers across the US who won in a phenomenon dubbed the "rainbow wave" (it was more a "splash" than a wave.)
In total, according to a report from NBC News, more than 200 LGBTQ candidates celebrated victory on Election Day last year. Winners included the first out Black gay member of Congress and the first out nonbinary state legislator.
Byers, a former teacher and band director last year won her race by 11 percentage points. She said these types of bills targeting trans youth are part of the religious right's reaction to clearly shifting societal attitudes and acceptance of members of the gay and trans communities.
First, conservatives opposed gay marriage. When the Supreme Court legalized that in 2015, they focused on bills that attempted to police the restrooms used by trans people, she said. Then, those failed.
"It's this repeated pattern of attacking the LGBTQ community by the same group," Byers said. "I think this is a reaction to seeing our country become more accepting of the LGBTQ community. For this other side — this conservative, religious-based side — these are their last digs at trying to stop the tide that's going to keep coming on."