On April 5, 2023, the Republican-led Legislature in Kansas enacted a law to ban transgender athletes from participating in girls' and women's athletics at schools, overriding the veto of Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat.
The ban would take effect July 1, 2023, and affect schools ranging from K-12 to colleges. House Bill 2238 (HB 2238), passed by Republican super-majorities in the Kansas House and Senate, says, "Athletic teams or sports designated for females, women or girls shall not be open to students of the male sex."
Critics of what authors named the "Fairness in Women's Sports Act," like the American Civil Liberties Union, called it discriminatory and alleged that it exposed "all girls and women to potentially invasive examinations just to be able to participate." Some social media users, like the Twitter user below, claimed without evidence the bill authorized "genital inspections of children in order for kids to play sports."
(via Twitter user @Davis_Hammet)
Overall, we found a mixture of truth and falsity in these claims. While Republican legislators did override the governor's veto to pass the law banning transgender athletes to participate in female sports, HB 2238 did not categorically mention "genital inspections," nor did it specifically spell out how athletic officials at schools would enforce the law — that is, how they would determine whether a student is trans or cisgender.
In supplemental notes to the bill, authors explained:
'Biological sex' to mean the biological indication of male and female in the context of reproductive potential or capacity, such as sex chromosomes, naturally occurring sex hormones, gonads, and non-ambiguous internal and external genitalia present at birth, without regard to an individual's psychological or chosen, or subjective experience of gender.
However, it also noted, "(T)he bill would not exclude students of the female sex from participating on athletic teams designated for males, men, or boys."
The language in the legislation did not spell out how athletics departments in schools would need to adapt to the new rules. According to Sec. 3. of the HB 2238:
The Kansas state high school activities association shall adopt rules and regulations for its member schools to implement the provisions of this section, and that, "The state board of regents and the governing body for each municipal university, community college and technical college shall adopt rules and regulations for the post-secondary educational institutions governed by each such entity, respectively, to implement the provisions of this section.
The law asked Kansas state high school activities association, state board of regents and the governing body for each municipal university, community college and technical college to adopt rules and regulations to implement the law.
Meanwhile, BuzzFeed News reported that Rep. Barb Wasinger, who introduced the bill in early 2023, was asked to explain how the officials at schools would determine whether a student is trans or cisgender, under the bill's guidelines. She said that would happen during a student athlete's "sports physical."
Snopes reached out to Wasinger's office for more details.
"Right now, every child enrolled in school has to have a valid birth certificate to attend," a spokesperson said. "Every child in Kansas who plays school sports is required to get a sports physical."
When asked how the school and college authorities would implement the measure, she said, "It will be taken care of by the presence of the birth certificate and sports physical." She provided a link to a form — "pre-participation physical evaluation instructions" — from the Kansas State State High School Activities Association. It's unclear how, or to what extent, the existing evaluation asks students about their gender.
Kelly also asked the Republican lawmakers to leave the matter to the association, saying it "was set up to ensure nobody has an unfair advantage on the playing field." The March 17 letter from the governor was critical of the GOP legislators' effort, terming it "political."
Similarly, Newsweek reported Kansas Republican House Majority Leader Chris Croft said the law "protects the rights of female athletes in the state," and that they "proudly stand with the female athletes across Kansas in their pursuit of athletic awards, opportunities, and scholarships."
Snopes reached out to him via email for his comments as well, but we did not receive a reply. We will update this story if and when we do.
The Kansas law came amid a wave of debates at varying levels of athletics (school-age, collegiate, professional) about trans athletes. On March 24, 2023, World Athletics (WA), the global governing body for track and field, announced new rules banning transgender women from competing in female track and field events.
Republican lawmakers across the country justified bans on transgender females by claiming those athletes had an unfair advantage over their biologically born female competitors. As of this writing, research on the matter remained ongoing, and there was no concrete evidence to confirm or deny the assertion.
For example, a 2017 study in Sports Medicine by Bethany Alice Jones, Jon Arcelus, Walter Pierre Bouman, and Emma Haycraft debunked the advantage angle, finding:
Currently, there is no direct or consistent research suggesting transgender female individuals (or male individuals) have an athletic advantage at any stage of their transition (e.g. cross-sex hormones, gender-confirming surgery) and, therefore, competitive sport policies that place restrictions on transgender people need to be considered and potentially revised.
But another study was more mixed on the question. The "15–31% athletic advantage that transwomen displayed over their female counterparts prior to starting gender affirming hormones declined with feminising therapy," noted a British Journal of Sports Medicine study in 2021. "However, transwomen still had a 9% faster mean run speed after the 1 year period of testosterone suppression that is recommended by World Athletics for inclusion in women's events."
Republicans in the U.S. Congress also have pushed for a federal ban on trans people's participation in team sports.
Recently, a number of Republicans and conservatives across the country escalated their attack on trans rights.
While a decade-old Pew Research Center study showed "an overwhelming share of America's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults (92%) say society has become more accepting of them in the past decade," another Pew study found a more complex public reaction: Most Americans favored protecting trans people from discrimination, but many were "uneasy with the pace of change on trans issues."