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Utah Governor Spencer Cox Vetoes Anti-Transgender Sports Bill HB11

Utah governor Spencer Cox vetoed a ban Tuesday that would not allow transgender girls to participate in school sports. 

He is the second Republican governor this week to veto a ban regarding transgender athletes. On Monday, Indiana governor Eric Holcomb shot down a similar bill, saying the legislation “falls short” of providing a consistent statewide policy regarding the matter in grade schools.

According to Cox, Utah was planning on creating a commission of experts that would evaluate a transgender child’s ability to participate in school sports on a case-by-case basis. Negotiations broke down between LGBTQ+ advocates and lawmakers, per Cox’s veto letter, and during the final hours of the legislative session on March 4, Utah legislatures presented a bill that would be an outright ban. 

“It is even rarer to have these pass, especially with no communication with those who had been negotiating the issue,” Cox said in the statement. “So, you can imagine my surprise when the 4th substitute was revealed late on the last day of the session and debated and passed just a few hours before midnight.

“It is important to note that a complete ban was never discussed, never contemplated, never debated and never received any public input prior to the Legislature passing the bill on the 45th and final night of the session. For this reason, many legislators who might have otherwise supported the policy felt compelled to vote against it.” 

Cox said he would veto the bill on March 5. 

In Cox’s veto letter, he noted that the financial impacts of a potential lawsuit would potentially bankrupt the Utah High School Athletic Association. 

He also called out misleading arguments that surround transgender participation in school sports. 

“I also believe there is broad misunderstanding around the current rules regarding transgender participation in sports. In particular, from the testimony of many, there seems to be a belief that any biologically-born male could simply say he was transgender and begin participating in women’s sports,” he said. “This is incorrect. For many years now, the UHSAA has had in place a rule that only allows male-to-female transgender participation in women’s sports after a full year of difficult transition hormone therapy and in consultation with a health care professional.”

In Utah, there are 75,000 kids who participate in high school sports, and only four transgender children, Cox said. Only one of those students plays a girls’ sport. These numbers played a role in Cox’s veto. 

“That’s what all of this is about,” Cox said. “Four kids who are just trying to find some friends and feel like they are a part of something. Four kids trying to get through each day. Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few. I don’t understand what they are going through or why they feel the way they do. But I want them to live.”

Utah’s legislative leaders have already announced their plan to convene in order to overturn the governor’s veto minutes after his decision came in, per the Associated Press. Lawmakers need a two-thirds majority in order to overturn the governor’s veto. 

The introduction of the law comes at a time where states across the United States are enacting bans that prohibit transgender athletes from participating in schools. Eleven states already have such a ban: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia. 

According to the Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, 52% of transgender and nonbinary youth have considered suicide. 

“When in doubt however, I always try to err on the side of kindness, mercy and compassion,” Cox wrote. “I also try to get proximate and I am learning so much from our transgender community. They are great kids who face enormous struggles.”