Shawnee legislative priorities draft includes support for transgender sports ban

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Shawnee is set to become the first city in Johnson County to consider formally taking a position on the issue of transgender athletes competing in women’s sports.

Driving the news: The city council will take up the question at a meeting on Monday as part of deliberations over a document outlining the city’s legislative priorities.

  • Additional topics in the document include legalized marijuana and the Fair Housing Act — all of which have been discussed in earlier committee meetings.

Why it matters: Legislative position papers and wish lists are common among local governments even if they are about issues that those governments have no actual say over.

Bigger picture: So far the transgender sports item in the city’s legislative priorities document has received the most attention, prompting some local LGBTQ advocates and residents to call for turnout at Monday’s meeting to voice their opposition to the city adopting it.

What the document says: The transgender-related item is two short clauses in the document that is 14 pages long overall and is under the heading “Fairness of Women’s Sports.” It says:

The City supports a bill to protect the fairness of women’s sports; we believe that all should have equal opportunities in sports but allowing biological males to compete in women’s only divisions is robbing girls of their opportunities at all levels.

What opponents are saying: The item on Shawnee’s legislative agenda this year, however, has some asking whether the transgender ban has its own political purpose.

  • “To me they’re trying to score political points with people who just don’t like trans people,” said Esmie Tseng, a Shawnee resident. “There’s something really cold and calculated about it.”
  • Tseng is also a communications director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas but says she is only speaking for her own opinions in this case.
  • Although the Shawnee City Council has no say over who gets excluded from sports teams, Tseng said the discussion at City Hall will do its own kind of damage: “It’s strange and tragic considering these are children that we’re talking about.”

Background: The discussion over legislative priorities comes three years after the Shawnee City Council approved a non-discrimination ordinance in 2019 by a 5-2 vote after hours of sometimes contentious debate.

  • That ordinance gives legal protection to those who have been discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • At the time, the ordinance was promoted by councilmembers Lisa Larson-Bunnell and Stephanie Meyer, who are both no longer on the council.
  • Newer members Tony Gillette and Tammy Thomas proposed the current legislative agenda item on transgender sports participation, along with others on medical marijuana and the federal Fair Housing Act.

What proponents have said: Two councilmembers who voted against the non-discrimination ordinance three years ago – Mike Kemmling and Eric Jenkins – remain on the council.

  • Jenkins, who said back then that he has a brother and son who are gay, said he voted against it because the council was not the right jurisdiction for the non-discrimination law.
  • “I do not think this is a local city issue,” Jenkins said at the time. “It’s not something that we should be handling as podunk councilmen down here. It’s a constitutional issue. Rights are given by constitutions, not by ordinances at city level.”
  • Thomas said during a January committee meeting reviewing the city’s legislative priorities that the item on transgender participation in sports is a fairness issue, since she believes transgender athletes would have an advantage over cis-gender females in physical contests.
  • In January, the councilmembers voted 7-1 in favor of bringing the item to a full council vote, with councilmember Jill Chalfie the lone dissenting vote.

What else is on Shawnee legislative agenda

Other social issues on the legislative priority list will also be included in the discussion Monday but have not received as much attention. They include:

  • An item that asks state lawmakers to consider impacts to local governments on such things as taxes and law enforcement if it legalizes medical marijuana. This item also says the city would not support marijuana legalized for recreational use.
  • An item that encourages reform of the federal Fair Housing Act that would strengthen zoning laws in favor of “suburban home dwellers” and their property values. “All this can be done without infringing on the rights of the disabled,” the item says.

About the author

Roxie Hammill
Roxie Hammill

Roxie Hammill is a freelance journalist who reports frequently for the Post and other Kansas City area publications. You can reach her at roxieham@gmail.com.