April 22 (Reuters) - Democratic Kansas Governor Laura Kelly on Thursday vetoed a Republican bill banning transgender girls from participating in school sports, in a setback for a broad campaign in statehouses across the country this year to restrict transgender rights.
Similar sports bans have been passed in Arkansas and Mississippi, and South Dakota's governor had signed an executive order supporting the ban.
The rejection in Kansas follows a similar veto by Republican North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum on Wednesday.
Kelly had cited the prospect of businesses boycotting Kansas as a reason for rejecting the bill. Burgum said North Dakota already had rules in place to guarantee fairness in sports, and that in any case no transgender girl had ever tried to play girls' sports in the state.
"This legislation sends a devastating message that Kansas is not welcoming to all children and their families, including those who are transgender," Kelly said in a statement announcing the veto. "As Kansans, we should be focused on how to include all students in extracurricular activities rather than how to exclude those who may be different than us."
The Kansas veto appears likely to stand as the votes passing the bill in the Republican-controlled House and Senate came up short of the number needed to override the governor.
Republicans also control both houses in North Dakota, where the House passed the bill with enough votes to override a veto but the Senate did not.
Republicans have introduced similar bills in statehouses across the country, supported by some women in sports, saying they aim to protect fairness in women's and girls' sports, even though very few transgender athletes participate in female sports.
More than 20 states have weighed around 100 bills that would limit transgender rights. Arkansas passed one banning certain types of gender-affirming healthcare treatment to transgender youth, after overriding the Republican governor's veto.
Proponents of the healthcare bills say they want to protect children from medical procedures such as puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones or gender-affirming surgery they will later regret.
Transgender advocates and civil rights groups have vowed to contest the sports and healthcare measures, calling them unconstitutional attempts to animate the right wing in the U.S. culture war.
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Sam Holmes and Karishma Singh)
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