GOP Governor to Transgender Athletes: 'It's Gonna Be OK'

Utah's Spencer Cox says he'll veto bill to ban transgender student athletes in girls sports
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 5, 2022 9:30 AM CST
GOP Governors Are Banning Transgender Athletes. Not This One
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during an interview at the Utah State Capitol on Friday.   (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

(Newser) – Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said that he plans to veto legislation passed Friday that would ban transgender student-athletes from competing in girls sports. Without his support, Utah is unlikely to join the 11 states, all Republican-led, that have recently enacted bans on transgender girls wanting to compete in school sports leagues that correspond with their gender identity, reports the AP. In vowing to veto the bill, Cox directly addressed transgender student-athletes, who he said found themselves the subject of political debate through no fault of their own. "I just want them to know that it's gonna be OK," Cox said. "We're gonna work through this." The governor had for months engaged in behind-the-scenes negotiations to broker a compromise between LGBTQ advocates and social conservatives.

After throwing his support behind a proposal to create a first-of-its-kind commission of experts in Utah to make decisions on individual transgender student-athletes aiming to participate, Cox said he was stunned on Friday night as lawmakers advanced and ultimately passed an amended proposal that included an outright ban on transgender student-athletes competing in girls leagues. Legislation sent to Cox after passing through the state Senate and House on Friday bans "biological males"—which it defines as "an individual's genetics and anatomy at birth"—from girls leagues. Supporters said it would ensure fairness and safety for girls and preempt cultural shifts they said could lead to a growing number of transgender kids wanting to compete in girls sports in the future.

"Boys can run faster, they can jump higher, and they can throw farther than girls in the same age bracket," Republican state Sen. Curt Bramble said. "To have individuals that are born male compete against naturally born females, it's an unfair playing field." There are no public accusations of transgender players having competitive advantages in Utah. The AP last year reached out to two dozen lawmakers in the more than 20 states considering similar youth sports measures and found that only a few times has it been an issue among the hundreds of thousands of teenagers who play high school sports.

Equality Utah, an LGBTQ rights group opposed to state intervention in youth sports, said they were blindsided by the passage of the legislation. "We have failed our state's transgender children, who just want to be treated with kindness and respect," the group said in a statement. In most places, eligibility decisions for transgender kids are made by sports organizations like the Utah High School Athletic Association. Out of the roughly 85,000 student-athletes that play high school sports in the state, four transgender players have gone through the association's eligibility determination process. With two-thirds majorities in both chambers, lawmakers could override a governor's veto; however, with some Republicans opposing the ban, such a scenario is unlikely. (Read more transgender stories.)

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