The governor of Wyoming has condemned an anti-transgender sports bill as “draconian” and “discriminatory,” yet has let it become law without his signature.
Gov. Mark Gordon also let an abortion ban become law in that fashion, while signing another abortion bill, outlawing medication used for the procedure. Wyoming is the first state to take the latter action. All the new legislation goes into effect July 1.
The sports bill, Senate File 133/Senate Enrolled Act 92, bars trans girls and women from competing in female sports from eighth through 12th grade. Gordon, a Republican, announced Friday that he would not sign or veto it but let it become law without his signature to avoid “divisive debates.”
But he said he did not approve of the measure. “While I support and agree with the overall goal of fairness in competitive female sports, I am concerned that the ban included in this legislation is overly draconian, is discriminatory without attention to individual circumstances or mitigating factors, and pays little attention to fundamental principles of equality,” he wrote in a letter to Wyoming Secretary of State Chuck Gray.
Gordon noted that there are only four known transgender students competing in school sports in Wyoming, out of 91,000 overall, and that the Wyoming High School Activities Association has a policy in place that considers eligibility on a case-by-case basis. “If we are creating policy for a problem that does not exist, my hope is we can be more thoughtful when it comes to our students,” he wrote.
He also mentioned the high rate of suicide among trans youth. “It is important to note that transgender youth face significant challenges in their daily lives, including high rates of bullying, discrimination and suicide,” he said. “Wyoming continues to lead the nation in suicide rates, and I am concerned that by enacting a ban we may be pushing these students farther down this road rather than finding ways to support them. It is well known that participating in team sports can foster a sense of belonging, potentially averting ostracization and depression.”
“Understanding the political reality that will prolong these very divisive debates, I am willing to let this pass into law without the benefit of my signature,” he concluded. “I reiterate my belief that hate and discrimination have no place in Wyoming. As we move forward over the next couple of years, I urge the Legislature to carefully consider policies that promote inclusion and equality for all individuals.”
By letting the bill become law without his signature, Gordon chose a “middle ground,” Wyoming Public Radio reports, adding, however, that “the law will be no less of law without the governor’s signature.” Wyoming is the 19th state to adopt a trans-exclusionary sports law.
Sara Burlingame, executive director of Wyoming Equality, said the law will be challenged in court. Families with trans children “have been very clear that they live in Wyoming because they love Wyoming, and they love our promise of liberty and equality,” she told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. “They know that that has to apply to their children as well as their neighbors’ children, and so we will be fighting this.”
The Human Rights Campaign also condemned the new law. “Gov. Gordon had the opportunity to do the right thing for Wyoming kids who just want to play sports and have fun with their friends,” Cathryn Oakley, HRC state legislative director and senior counsel, said in a press release. “Allowing this discriminatory legislation to become law without his signature does not prevent the harm the bill will do to transgender youth; it will not prevent the cost to taxpayers for defending an unconstitutional and illegal piece of legislation in court; and it will not make any of the much-needed investments that would truly help support women’s sports in Wyoming. Transgender kids deserve to grow up knowing that they are loved and respected for who they are. The governor’s refusal to veto this bill will make their lives harder today. Wyoming families deserve better.”
The abortion pill legislation makes it a misdemeanor “to prescribe, dispense, distribute, sell or use any drug for the purpose of procuring or performing an abortion on any person.” Violators could be imprisoned up to six months and fined up to $9,000. The legislation makes clear that only health care providers, not pregnant patients, would be punished.
The other abortion-related law “bans abortion with narrow exceptions for rape, incest and dire risks to the pregnant patient’s life or health,” The New York Times reports. It also bans the use of drugs to facilitate abortions, but it makes that a felony. It asserts that abortion is not health care. A previously enacted ban is being challenged in court on the basis that Wyoming’s constitution says residents have the right to control their own health care.
But there will be suits against both of the new laws, Dr. Giovannina Anthony, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Wyoming, told the Times. She works at Women’s Health & Family Care Clinic in Jackson, the only clinic in the state that provides abortions, and it does so only by medication, not surgery.
“The impact of that legislation not only infringes on our constitutional rights, it actually causes harm,” she said. “Criminalizing evidence-based medicine is really what this boils down to, and that, in the end, honestly, will lead to maternal deaths and horrible outcomes for both mothers and babies.”