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Republican Utah governor joins Indiana’s in vetoing trans sports ban

Written by corres2

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb is not the only Republican state chief executive to veto legislation that would bar transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports at elementary and high schools.

Earlier this week, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox nixed a similar proposal recently approved by the Republican-controlled Utah Legislature for many of the same reasons Holcomb gave when he vetoed House Enrolled Act 1041.

Both governors said the trans sports bans adopted so far in 11 other Republican-led states are solutions in search of a problem as neither Indiana, nor Utah have many trans girls assigned male at birth participating in girls’ sports.

Holcomb noted in his veto message to the Republican-controlled General Assembly “not a single case of a male seeking to participate on a female team has completed the process” established by the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) required to participate.

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Likewise, in Utah, Cox said a total of four transgender kids are playing high school sports and just one of them is playing girls’ sports.

“Four kids and only one of them playing girls sports. That’s what all of this is about. Four kids who aren’t dominating or winning trophies or taking scholarships. 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,” Cox said.

Notably, the legislation in both Indiana and Utah only applies to trans girls participating in girls’ sports. A trans boy, on the other hand, still would be permitted to play on a boys team, and presumably shower and change with his teammates, despite being assigned female at birth.

That currently is not automatically allowed in either Indiana or Utah where the IHSAA and the Utah High School Athletic Association (UHSAA) both have strict policies and qualifications for all transgender students seeking to participate in high school sports.

Cox said changing that policy in Utah is “an explicit invitation for a lawsuit” against both the UHSAA and local school districts, neither of which likely have the financial resources needed to prevail in court or to pay potentially significant damages after losing a civil rights case.

“With several lawsuits already being litigated across the country, why would Utah insist — even encourage — expensive and debilitating legal action with no recourse for the organization that serves our own student athletes and schools?” Cox asked state lawmakers in his veto message.

“I hope you can agree that if we want to protect women’s sports, bankrupting the institution that is responsible for their participation is a bad place to start.”

IHSAA Commissioner Paul Neidig similarly said a state law barring trans girls from girls’ sports is not needed when the IHSAA already “continues to work tirelessly to maintain fairness and equity in all education-based athletics.”

“The association appreciates the governor’s perspective in recognizing the IHSAA’s gender policy, which was originally written in 2006 and updated in 2017. Our policy is rooted in the association’s substantial interest in students’ health and safety, in competitive equity, in safeguarding a level playing field, and in ensuring that there is fair opportunity for athletic participation in a manner that enhances the education of all high school students,” Neidig said.

“Through Governor Holcomb’s veto, this policy continues to allow the flexibility to assess competitive advantage in each unique case.”

In Utah, Cox acknowledged he is not an expert on transgenderism: “I struggle to understand so much of it and the science is conflicting. When in doubt however, I always try to err on the side of kindness, mercy and compassion,” he said.

To that end, Cox noted studies show 86% of trans youth consider suicide and 56% of trans youth have attempted suicide.

“I don’t understand what they are going through or why they feel the way they do. But I want them to live. And all the research shows that even a little acceptance and connection can reduce suicidality significantly,” Cox said.

“For that reason, as much as any other, I have taken this action in the hope that we can continue to work together and find a better way. If a veto override occurs, I hope we can work to find ways to show these four kids that we love them and they have a place in our state.”

Holcomb did not specifically address the message being sent to Hoosier trans youth by the General Assembly through this legislation.

Instead, consistent with his “small government” philosophy, he said he simply sees no need for the state to be involved in this issue.

“The presumption of the policy laid out in House Enrolled Act 1041 is that there is an existing problem in K-12 sports in Indiana that requires further state government intervention. It implies that the goals of consistency and fairness in competitive female sports are not currently being met. After thorough review, I find no evidence to support either claim even if I support the overall goal,” Holcomb said.

Advocates for the legislation repeatedly have pointed to the success of Lia Thomas, a trans athlete at the University of Pennsylvania, winning the NCAA women’s swimming championship in the 500-yard freestyle race as reason to bar trans athletes and “save women’s sports.”

Indeed, the Conservative Political Action Coalition on Wednesday condemned Holcomb and the Indianapolis-based NCAA as elements of the “woke left” that are trying to “change society and destroy American values and traditions.”

“Without this policy, we could soon see a day where young women in Indiana lose roster spots, scholarships  and opportunities to biological men because of the lack of legislative protections contained in House Bill 1041.”

But trans sports bans approved in both Indiana and Utah apply only to girls’ sports at the elementary and high school level. The NCAA would remain free to set trans participation policies for women’s college athletics without interference by either state.

Cox said he believes that’s the best policy in the short term to give the courts time to determine whether anti-discrimination laws require trans women be given equal access to participate in women’s athletics.

“There are natural advantages that come from our birth sex, which is the very reason that we have men’s and women’s sports in the first place. Setting records and taking scholarships away from biological gendered women should give everyone pause. It’s bad for women and it is bad for the LGBTQ community, as it turns allies and reasonable people into opponents,” Cox said.

Holcomb also indicated he’d prefer to wait for the courts to hash out these issues, instead of having the General Assembly adopt what he described as a confusing policy that allows student-athletes to be treated differently at different schools in ways that are likely to frustrate students, parents and administrators.

“Of the several states that have passed similar legislation, lawsuits have been filed or have threatened to be filed. In the two cases with initial rulings thus far, the courts have enjoined or prohibited laws with these same substantive provisions from taking effect based on equal protections grounds,” Holcomb said.

“Moreover, even before the introduction of House Enrolled Act 1041, a lawsuit was filed in Indiana in federal court by a middle-grade student who seeks to play in school sports on the team of their choice. Any bill brought forward should address the issues raised in these lawsuits.”

That stance isn’t winning Holcomb many allies at the Statehouse, even among fellow partisans. Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita, a Munster native, favors a veto override, as does Republican Secretary of State Holli Sullivan, who Holcomb plucked from relative obscurity in the Indiana House a little more than a year ago and appointed her to fill a vacancy in the secretary of state’s office.

“Generations of women have fought for equal rights in this country. House Enrolled Act 1041 is designed to protect those rights and the integrity of female sports,” Sullivan said. “I wholeheartedly support the Legislature’s intentions to override Governor Holcomb’s veto.”

The Indiana General Assembly is scheduled to return to the Statehouse May 24 to consider overriding the governor’s veto.

The measure originally was approved 66-30 in the House and 32-18 by the Senate. All Northwest Indiana Republican lawmakers supported the proposal, except state Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, who joined all Region Democrats in opposing it.

It takes in Indiana only a simple majority — the same 50% plus one required to send legislation to the governor in the first place — for the General Assembly to override a gubernatorial veto and enact a measure into law notwithstanding his objections.

Senate Democratic Leader Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, said Statehouse Republicans should not be using a session day set aside for making urgent technical corrections to new laws before they take effect July 1 to “fuel the flames of culture wars” by overriding the governor’s veto.

“We know that the passage of this bill will mean a lawsuit from ACLU, who has already promised to sue. Lawsuits against similar legislation in other states have so far been successful,” Taylor said.

“All this move does, besides further establishing Indiana as a regressive, unwelcoming state, is waste taxpayer dollars on top of the wasted time that will be spent discussing this bill on May 24. It’s ridiculous to put on this charade just so Republicans can double down on discriminating against children to score political points with their base.”

The Utah Legislature likewise is expected to override Cox’s veto of House Bill 11.

If it does so, Cox said he plans to immediately call a special session for the state to assume the costs of the inevitable litigation and take that financial burden off the backs of the UHSAA and local schools in Utah.

“A simple veto override will not resolve this fundamental issue,” Cox said.

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