GOP governors veto bans on anti-trans sports in Indiana and Utah
By Devan Cole and Jenn Selva, CNN
The governors of Indiana and Utah vetoed bans on anti-trans sports in their states this week, thwarting GOP lawmakers in rare moments of public disapproval of controversial moves by Republican heads of state.
Explanations for vetoes — bills to ban transgender women and girls from competing on gender-conforming school sports teams — by Utah Gov. Spencer Cox on Tuesday and Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb on Monday shared some key similarities. But Cox, noting that only four of the 75,000 high school athletes in her state are transgender, proved an unusually sympathetic voice on the issue.
” That’s what it’s about. Four kids who don’t dominate or win trophies or take scholarships. Four kids who are just trying to make friends and feel like they’re part of something. Four kids trying to make it through each day,” Cox wrote in a letter to leaders of the state’s Republican-led legislature.
“Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so little. I don’t understand what they are going through or why they feel the way they do. But I want them to live,” he added, noting that studies have shown that particularly high suicide rates among trans students can be reduced when they are shown “even a little acceptance and connection”.
The comments marked a notable departure from how other GOP governors have discussed the issue, with many who have enacted similar bans using transphobic and emotionally charged language to justify their decisions. And the two vetoes signal a clear awareness among Republican governors of the social and legal bet for their states after a wave of controversy and several lawsuits have drawn negative attention to other states that have imposed similar bans on their books. these last years.
Like Cox, Holcomb also wrote in a letter to Indiana state lawmakers on Monday that “after careful consideration” he found “no evidence” that the problem his state’s bill sought to resolve existed.
Holcomb claimed that HEA 1041 was drafted too broadly, specifically cited concerns about how the legislation would be applied consistently across the state, and, like Cox, noted lawsuits challenging similar laws to across the country.
“Amid the wave of enthusiasm to protect the integrity and fairness of women’s sports in our state – a worthy cause for sure – this bill leaves too many questions unanswered,” he wrote. .
Indiana state lawmakers could potentially override the governor’s veto when they meet in late May for an extra legislative day. The bill passed both houses earlier this year with non-veto majorities. Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson, a Republican, said Tuesday he expects his caucus to have enough votes to override Cox’s veto and plans to do so later this week.
“Members of the legislature, including the sponsor, have worked tirelessly for over a year to find the best way to approach a complex issue and I anticipate we will have enough votes to override the veto,” said Wilson.
Laws have sought to limit participation
The debate over the inclusion of transgender athletes, particularly women and girls, has become a political flashpoint in recent years, especially among conservatives.
Indiana law states that “a male, on the basis of a student’s biological sex at birth in accordance with the student’s genetics and reproductive biology, may not participate in a sports team or a sport designated under this section as being a ladies’, women’s or women’s sports team”. team or sport. The bill would also protect schools and sports associations from liability for the application of the legislation.
While sex is a category that largely refers to physiology, a person’s gender is an innate sense of identity. Factors that go into determining the sex listed on a birth certificate can include anatomy, genetics, and hormones, and there is wide natural variation in each of these categories. For this reason, critics have said that the language of “biological sex”, as used in this legislation, is overly simplistic and misleading.
The Utah bill would have implemented a similar ban, but Cox said in his letter that the legislation had undergone a last-minute change that would “implement a total ban,” rather than allowing a committee to decide on an individual basis whether the athlete can participate.
“It is important to note that a full ban was never discussed, never contemplated, never debated, and never received public input until the Legislative Assembly passed the bill on the 45th and final evening of the session,” he said. “For this reason, many lawmakers who would otherwise have supported the policy felt compelled to vote against it.”
Proponents of these measures have argued that transgender women and girls have physical advantages over cisgender women and girls in sports. But a 2017 report in the journal Sports Medicine that reviewed several related studies found “no direct or consistent research” on trans people having an athletic advantage over their cisgender peers, at any stage of their life. transition, and critics say this legislation would add to the discrimination faced by trans people, especially trans youth.
So far this year, the GOP governors of Iowa and South Dakota have enthusiastically signed legislation banning transgender women and girls from participating in gender-conforming sports teams at accredited schools and colleges. .
Last year, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Montana, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia enacted similar sports bans, infuriating LGBTQ advocates, who argue lawmakers seek to solve a problem where there is none.
Holcomb appeared to refer on Monday to the limited legal success opponents have had in fighting the measures, including last year when a federal judge temporarily blocked West Virginia’s enforcement of its ban after the attorneys sued the state, with the judge saying he had “received little evidence that this law solves any problem, let alone a significant problem. And in 2020, a federal judge blocked enforcement by Idaho of its sports ban.
LGBTQ advocates applauded the governors’ decisions this week, with the Human Rights Campaign, one of the nation’s largest LGBTQ rights groups, saying Cox has “shown he sees the humanity of young people transgender people targeted by this legislation – something the governors of states like South Dakota and Iowa have refused to do.
“We urge lawmakers to uphold the governor’s veto because all children in Utah deserve better than to be treated like political pawns – what they deserve is being able to have fun with their friends, do exercise and learning to be part of a team,” Cathryn Oakley, legislative director and senior counsel for the group, said in a statement.
Katie Blair, director of public policy for the Indiana ACLU, said in a statement Monday that Holcomb’s veto “would not have been possible without the thousands of Hoosiers who have expressed their strong opposition to state legislators and who showed up at the Statehouse to oppose the harmful bill.Discrimination has no place in our state.
This headline and story were updated with additional developments on Tuesday.
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CNN’s Amanda Musa and Paul LeBlanc contributed to this report.