SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Republican governors in two states this week rejected legislation banning transgender players from girls’ sports — hinting at how to navigate the repetition of gender as a culture war issue. There are few remaining fractures among GOP leaders.
Still, those decisions to undermine the party’s conservative wing may prove short-lived against a fired GOP base and lawmakers seeking to overthrow governors.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb vetoed bills passed by state lawmakers that would ban transgender girls from participating in gender-specified youth sports.
Their opposition puts them at odds with some of their high-profile counterparts in states such as Iowa, Florida and South Dakota, where politically ambitious governors have leaned into the debate as LGBTQ states are increasingly visible in American society and pop culture. .
Given the very few transgender student-athletes playing in both states — four in Utah and none in Indiana — Cox and Holcomb say the restrictions address a problem that is virtually nonexistent and deviates from the broader conservative agenda. it occurs.
Holcomb said in a veto letter that Indiana lawmakers’ argument for the ban meant “the goals of consistency and fairness in competitive women’s sports are currently not being met.”
“After a thorough review, I found no evidence to support any of the claims, even though I support the overall effort,” he said.
The Associated Press reached out to two dozen lawmakers in more than 20 states looking at similar youth sports measures last year and found it has been an issue only a few times among hundreds of thousands of teens playing high school sports.
But lawmakers in Utah and Indiana say transgender girls may have a physical advantage.
“It’s not about the number of kids. It’s not about a number at all. It’s about a fundamental belief – whether you either have it or not – that the women’s game needs to be preserved for those who are biologically born and identified as female,” Utah Rep. Kera Birkland, a Republican high school basketball coach who sponsored the ban.
Legislative leaders say they have whipped up votes to eliminate the veto and join nearly a dozen other states in deciding which teams transgender children can play in. The Indiana bill passed with widespread support and legislative leaders are meeting in late May and may override it with a simple majority.
Alluding to transgender swimmer Lia Thomas, who won an individual title at the NCAA Women’s Division I Swimming and Diving Championships last week. While she placed 5th and 8th in two other races, her victory attracted widespread attention, including from Republican politicians such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who issued an official announcement declaring the runner-up the “real winner”.
Until two years ago, no state had passed a law regulating gender-named youth sports. But the issue has become front and center in Republican-led state houses since Idaho lawmakers passed the nation’s first sports participation law in 2020. Now it has been blocked in court, plus another in West Virginia.
Governors in states such as Kansas, Louisiana and North Dakota vetoed similar legislation last year, citing fears of lawsuits or retaliation from businesses or sports federations such as the NCAA or NBA. Although organizations shifted events from North Carolina in 2016 after lawmakers limited public restrooms by transgender people, states that have banned transgender student-athletes have generally not faced the same backlash. had to do.
However, the pushback has come from social conservatives. In South Dakota, potential 2024 presidential nominee Kristi Noem faced pressure after she vetoed the ban last year. She fast-forwarded to one this year and promoted the law with a series of TV commercials.
In Utah, Cox in his veto letter cited the widespread message that the ban sends to transgender children, who have very high suicide rates. In an apparent acknowledgment that lawmakers would override his veto, he said he knew signing it into law would have been a more politically expedient move.
Lawmakers are confident they will be able to override the veto after flipping several Republicans who voted against the ban and facing the challenges of re-election in a primary race decided by a small group of ultra-conservative party members. did.
“Government Cox fears it could cost him his political career,” said Equality Utah executive director Troy Williams. hostile to life.”
Holcomb and Cox also worry about devoting taxpayer money to legal fees. “Let someone else, Idaho spend millions of dollars defending it and then, whatever happens, we can react to that,” Cox said.
While LBGTQ advocates and allies may have sided with the governors, the majority of the party is “quite integrated into its anti-transgender stance in the states right now,” said Jason Pearson, a professor of political science at the University of Illinois, Springfield.
“I would say there’s more to the Republican Party story than the overridden governor’s veto,” he said. “There is no political space in the Republican Party right now for a transgender rights approach.”
The push stems from a Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in 2015 and the High Court in 2020 in the Civil Rights Act that prohibits employment discrimination for transgender people, he said.
Some conservative activists are hoping that a federal judiciary with more judges appointed by former President Donald Trump could help put the new law to court, he said.
Meanwhile, many states also have bills that would restrict gender-affirming care for transgender youth. DeSantis also signed legislation this year that prohibits instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, called the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
“At this point, Gov. Cox seems like an outsider on the issue,” said Chris Karpowitz, a professor of political science at Brigham Young University. “It seems to be an issue that is stirring up a lot of fear, a lot of anger, a lot of active energy.”