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Utah governor vetoes transgender athlete ban

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox vetoed a bill that would ban transgender participation in sports. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox vetoed a bill Tuesday that would ban transgender children from playing school-sanctioned girls’ sports. In a letter explaining the veto, he wrote that “rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few.”

Cox becomes the second Republican governor to veto such legislation this week after Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb vetoed a similar bill Monday.

In recent years, 11 Republican governors have signed similar bills into law, according to the New York Times. Just last month, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a letter that directed Texas Department of Family and Protective services employees to begin investigating transgender children in the state and prosecuting their parents for child abuse. The letter was met with anger and protest across the sports world.

Public debate surrounding the participation of transgender girls and women in sports has swelled since swimmer Lia Thomas became the first known transgender woman to win a national title.

While Holcomb said he supports the “overall goal” of the legislation he vetoed, he noted that there is “no evidence” to support the implication that “the goals of consistency and fairness in competitive female sports are not currently being met.”

Similarly, Cox admitted that he struggles in understanding “so much of it.”

“The science is conflicting,” Cox wrote in a letter to the leaders of the Utah House and Senate. “When in doubt however, I always try to err on the side of kindness, mercy and compassion.”

While Cox says that he believes “in fairness and protecting the integrity of women’s sports,” the bill was changed at the last minute in a way that would leave the schools unprotected from legal action.

The ban was introduced hours before the state legislative session concluded for the year, upending negotiations over alternative ways to address the issue. Those proposed requirements would have allowed transgender children to play sports after getting approval from a government-appointed commission.

The governor was on board with the measure, but it struggled to win support.

“We were trying to find a middle ground,” said Sue Robbins, who serves on the Equality Utah Transgender Advisory Council. “Then all of a sudden this comes about … it was kind of crushing.”

Cox was noticeably angry over the change, according to Politico.

“To go from all of this work, all of this discussion and all of these negotiations to get to a point that was uncomfortable for everyone but was a path forward and really represented the best of Utah, to now, on the last night of the session, out of nowhere, getting a complete ban that nobody’s talked to me about is incredibly disappointing,” he said, addressing the legislature minutes after lawmakers passed the ban.

Additionally, Cox cited the fact that there were only four transgender kids playing high school sports in Utah out of 85,000 athletes, and only one playing on a girls’ team. He also talked about the high rates of suicidal thoughts and attempts amongst trans youth.

“Four kids and only one of them playing girls sports. That’s what all of this is about,” he 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. And all the research shows that even a little acceptance and connection can reduce suicidality significantly.”