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Republican Governor Vetoes Ban on Trans Girls in Sports: 'I Want Them to Live'

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox made a pretty powerful point about protecting trans kids, though his support for them ultimately falls short.

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Image for article titled Republican Governor Vetoes Ban on Trans Girls in Sports: 'I Want Them to Live'
Photo: Rick Bowmer (AP)

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R) vetoed a ban on trans girls playing school sports on Tuesday, giving trans kids and their supporters a small reprieve.

In a letter to the leaders of Utah’s legislative chambers detailing his veto, Cox reminded his fellow conservative colleagues that trans kids are among the most vilified people in our country. “When in doubt, I always try to err on the side of kindness, mercy and compassion,” Cox wrote. (Read the transphobic response by Utah state Senate President J. Stuart Adams and state House Speaker Brad Wilson here.)

Cox then called attention to how awful these grown-ass adults are being to Utah’s kids: There are 75,000 high school students in Utah high school sports, but only four trans kids are competing in Utah high school sports, and just one of those students is playing on girls’ sports teams.

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“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,” Cox wrote. “And all the research shows that even a little acceptance and connection can reduce suicidality significantly.”

The Utah legislature is trying to stamp out four children right now because trans people are the country’s latest cultural panic. The bill was introduced on the last day of the legislative session with only four hours left and was sent for Cox’s signature with zero public input. A year of negotiations among trans people, legislatures and advocates was tossed out the window in favor of a last-minute, all-out ban.

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Sue Robbins, a member of Equality Utah Transgender Advisory Council, called the last-minute ban “crushing” in an interview with the AP. “We were trying to find a middle ground,” she said.

While we applaud Cox for his small mercy, it’s also clear that empathy for trans kids and their parents is not the governor’s primary motivation. The first two nearly full pages of his veto letter are concerns about the process. Then another page is about financial worries; Cox is deeply worried about the financial implications of this bill becoming law. Utah’s high school athletes are governed by a private organization that’s broke, according to the governor. The bill doesn’t provide the organization indemnification for enforcing the law. “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,” he wrote.

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Utah’s GOP-controlled state legislature has the two-thirds necessary to override his veto, and the leaders are calling for a session at 1 p.m. on Friday to do so. “If the state insists on a policy that encourages significant litigation, I believe the state should pay for the litigation,” he wrote. “A simple veto override will not resolve this fundamental issue.”

Cox is the second Republican governor to veto such a bill. Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb vetoed a bill banning transgender girls from participating in school sports on Monday, saying he “adamantly” supports the transphobic idea that “boys should be playing boys sports and girls should be playing girls sports, and mixed sports should be just that,” but that the legislation sent to his desk “falls short.”

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Of course, Cox’s empathy for trans kids also falls short; He called for a special session on Friday at 2 p.m. to deal with the legal concerns.