Utah's Republican governor, Spencer Cox, has vowed to veto a transgender-exclusionary sports bill passed by legislators Friday.
Lawmakers had been considering a bill that would set up a commission to determine trans student athletes' eligibility to compete under their gender identity. It had passed the House in February and moved to the Senate, and it had the governor's support, while LGBTQ+ advocates worried it would still marginalize young trans people.
But Friday, as the legislature neared adjournment, Sen. Dan McCay proposed new language saying no "student of the male sex," as "determined by an individual's genetics and anatomy at birth," could participate in girls' interscholastic sports in public schools, therefore excluding trans girls from girls' sports, The Salt Lake Tribune reports. Both the House and Senate passed it the revised legislation.
Several legislators objected to the new language, although not enough to defeat the bill. Even before the bill passed in the House, however, Cox promised to veto it, Salt Lake City's KSTU reports.
"I thought we had at least the bones of a deal," Cox told the station, referring to the commission idea. "And then this, this whole idea of a complete ban, we'd never talked about it. It was never debated, it just came up at the very last minute." There have been no public complaints about trans athletes competing in Utah.
Cox also posted on Facebook, saying, "We care deeply about Utah's female athletes and our LGBTQ+ community. To those hurting tonight: It's going to be OK. We're going to help you get through this. Please reach out if you need help. Safe UT is free and provides immediate and confidential counseling."
When legislators were considering a ban last year, Cox spoke out against it. "These kids are ... they're just trying to stay alive," he said of trans youth at the time. "There's a reason none of them are playing sports. And so ... I just think there's a better way. And I hope there will be enough grace in our state to find a better solution. I don't understand all of this. I don't. But I'm trying to understand more. I'm trying to listen and learn and, again, trying to help kids figure out who they are and keep them alive."
Then, speaking to the Tribune Friday, he said, "Anyone that's interacted with the transgender community understands how amazing they are and how difficult it can be for them. I don't want to make things harder for them than they have to be."
The legislature is heavily Republican, but since some Republicans oppose the ban, it's unlikely that lawmakers will have enough votes to override a veto by Cox, the Associated Press notes.
Eleven states have enacted similar laws since 2020, with Iowa being the latest, as Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill into law just this week. The others are Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia. The Idaho and West Virginia laws are temporarily blocked while lawsuits against them proceed. Indiana has recently sent such legislation to its governor. Governors, two Democrats and one Republican, have vetoed bills like these in Kansas, Louisiana, and North Dakota.
LGBTQ+ activists applauded Cox for standing against the Utah bill. "As the first governor this year pledging to veto anti-trans legislation sent to his desk for signature, Gov. Cox deserves praise for standing up to those who continue to target and attack transgender youth," said a statement from Human Rights Campaign State Legislative Director and Senior Counsel Cathryn Oakley. "Transgender kids are kids, and they do not deserve to be the targets of dehumanizing attacks that invalidate their identity. Like all children, they deserve the opportunity to play sports with their friends and learn important life skills like sportsmanship, teamwork, and healthy competition through athletic participation. Utahns deserve better than legislators who are seeking to bully transgender youth with politically motivated bills for the sake of discrimination itself. Gov. Cox has shown he sees the humanity of the transgender youth impacted by this legislation -- something governors in states like South Dakota and Iowa have not. The Human Rights Campaign appreciates his promise to veto."