Governors Curtis Holcomb (R) of Indiana and Spencer Cox (R) of Utah – two overwhelmingly red states – this week vetoed legislation seeking to ban transgendered middle school and high school girls from participating in female sports. The issue has been at the top of Republicans’ legislative agendas across the country, with similar bills being passed (and signed) in other states, making these two vetoes noteworthy.
In Indiana, Governor Holcomb noted several issues with the bill. Most notably, that the governing body that oversaw high school sports (the Indiana High School Athletic Association) already had policies in place that accomplishes what legislators want the government to oversee instead.
Holcomb also noted the trend of legislation that follows these bills in other states, and called out the bill’s inconsistent language that will invite lawsuits. This is a common occurrence in legislation that seeks to use government to remedy culture war issues; as an example, attempts to ban “divisive concepts” that invite judicial interpretation on what, actually, that means in practice.
You can read Holcomb’s letter to the legislature here .
Governor Cox in Utah, in his letter to the legislature (found here) , cites many of the same issues as Holcomb (e.g., the existence of a governing body already in place for this issue and the near-certainty of costly litigation). Cox also details the 11th-hour inclusion of an amendment that completely overhauled the initial legislation that Cox was prepared to sign; this is reason enough for any Governor to veto any bill, even one they would otherwise support.
However, Cox went a step farther and specifically addressed the main talking points behind the legislation and introduced a concept typically absent in these debates: empathy.
In another time, Cox’s appeal to decency and opposition to government overreach would make him a rising star in the party. I encourage you to read the last section of Cox’s letter here:
I also think it’s important to address some of the arguments that came up during the passing of the 4th substitute of the bill. Many legislators brought up the trans swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania, who has recently dominated women’s swimming, setting records and lapping the field. I agree with those who are concerned with this egregious example. I believe this is terrible for women’s sports. 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. I don’t believe that this type of participation is compelled by the Constitution, but that decision will be left to the courts in the months and years to come.
However, there are a few problems with this example being the reason for a complete ban in Utah. First, this bill would do nothing to prevent that example, as HB11 only applies to high school and middle school and does not impact collegiate athletes. And second, if there was a similar example in a Utah high school, the proposed commission would prevent it from happening. Indeed, that is the very purpose of the commission: it would attempt to both protect women’s sports and allow our most vulnerable an opportunity to participate. Interestingly, the very legislator who introduced the 4th substitute of the bill called the commission concept “brilliant.” I do not know if the commission would completely solve this divisive issue, but I appreciate the innovative and respectful approach that it offers.
I also believe there is broad misunderstanding around the current rules regarding transgender participation in sports. In particular, from the testimony of many, there seems to be a belief that any biologically-born male could simply say he was transgender and begin participating in women’s sports. This is incorrect. For many years now, the UHSAA has had in place a rule that only allows male-to-female transgender participation in women’s sports after a full year of difficult transition hormone therapy and in consultation with a health care professional. This has likely prevented some participation and helped to even the playing field. As a representative of the UHSAA stated: “As we read the science right now, we like our policy. This year we have four students who have gone through our paperwork and we have not had any complaints from any other students or families or school administrators.” I should note that while I have some reservations about a policy that requires or incentivizes these transitions, it is the policy in place.
Finally, there is one more important reason for this veto. I must admit, I am 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. I also try to get proximate and I am learning so much from our transgender community. They are great kids who face enormous struggles.
Here are the numbers that have most impacted my decision: 75,000, 4, 1, 86 and 56.
- 75,000 high school kids participating in high school sports in Utah.
- 4 transgender kids playing high school sports in Utah.
- 1 transgender student playing girls sports.
- 86% of trans youth reporting suicidality.
- 56% of trans youth having attempted suicide
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. 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. 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.
I recognize the political realities of my decision. Politically, it would be much easier and better for me to simply sign the bill. I have always tried to do what I feel is the right thing regardless of the consequences. Sometimes I don’t get it right, and I do not fault those who disagree with me. But even if you disagree with me, I hope this letter helps you understand the reasons for my decision.
Both vetoes are expected to be overridden.