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May 25, 2022
Two Republican Governors Just Refused to Join Their Party’s Anti-Trans Culture War
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Two Republican Governors Just Refused to Join Their Party’s Anti-Trans Culture War

As Republicans at the state level continue to pass laws that would ban transgender women and girls from participating in girls’ and women’s sports in schools, two GOP governors are refusing the trend by weighing the actual impact instead of simply rubber-stamping the right’s latest culture-war legislation. Utah governor Spencer Cox and Indiana governor Eric Holcomb both vetoed anti-trans sports bills this week that were passed by Republican legislators in their respective states.

In a Tuesday letter addressed to the Utah legislature’s GOP leaders, Cox explained his veto of House Bill 11, which would prohibit trans girls from participating in public school sports according to their gender identity, in part by noting that out of the 75,000 high school students who participate sports in Utah, only four are transgender. “Four kids and only one of them playing girls sports. That’s what all of this is about,” he said. “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.”

After highlighting statistics on the outsized percentage of trans students who attempt suicide, Cox went on to question why “so much fear and anger [has] been directed at so few,” adding, “I want them to live. And all the research shows that even a little acceptance and connection can reduce suicidality significantly.” The first-term governor concluded by noting that if a veto override does occur, he hopes that Utah Republicans will work to “show these four kids that we love them and they have a place in our state.” 

Utah’s legislative leaders have already scheduled a special session on Friday to override the governor’s veto of House Bill 11, which would require a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate. However, to reach that threshold, Utah’s state GOP leadership, Senate president Stuart Adams and House Speaker Brad Wilson, will have to convince lawmakers who previously voted against House Bill 11 to join their fight against the governor’s veto, according to the Associated Press.

Cox’s remarks are a notable contrast to his peers in other red states, especially Florida, where Governor Ron DeSantis celebrated the first day of Pride month last year by signing a law banning transgender women and girls from competing on women’s and girls’ sports teams in public schools. DeSantis continued his cultural crusade on Tuesday by claiming that the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the nonprofit that serves as the governing body for more than 1,200 college athletic programs, is trying to “destroy women’s athletics” after it made a decision that allowed Lia Thomas, a trans swimmer, to compete in women’s events. “They’re trying to undermine the integrity of the competition, and they’re crowning somebody else the women’s champion,” he said, while announcing a state proclamation to name University of Virginia swimmer Emma Weyant the “best female” in the women’s 500-yard freestyle race, an offensive reference to Weyant narrowly losing a NCAA swimming title to Thomas last week.

On Monday, Governor Holcomb wrote his own letter to Indiana’s GOP House Speaker, noting that he had vetoed the state’s anti-trans sports ban, House Enrolled Act 1041, because, among other reasons, the bill seeks to use “government intervention” to solve a virtually nonexistent problem. “It implies that the goals of consistency and fairness in competitive female sports are not currently being met,” Holcomb continued, before asserting that he found no “evidence to support” claims made by the authors of HEA 1041. “Amidst the flurry of enthusiasm to protect the integrity and fairness of women’s sports in our state—a worthy cause for sure—this bill leaves too many unanswered questions,” he concluded. 

The ACLU’s Indiana chapter declared the governor’s decision a victory for the “the trans youth of Indiana” and the “thousands of Hoosiers who voiced their strong opposition to state legislators and who showed up at the statehouse to oppose this harmful bill.” The Human Rights Campaign also praised Holcomb’s veto, calling it a “strong statement of Indiana’s values and the legislature must allow it to stand,” in a statement from the LGBT advocacy group’s state legislative director, Cathryn Oakley. “All Indiana children deserve better than being treated as political pawns—what they deserve is to be able to have fun with their friends, exercise, and learn how to be part of a team,” Oakley wrote.

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