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Utah enacts ban on anti-trans sports after Republican lawmakers override GOP governor’s veto

HB 11 had been vetoed earlier this week by Governor Spencer Cox, who questioned its necessity and stressed that it targets a marginalized group that suffers from high rates of suicide.

Utah law states that “a male student may not compete, and a public school or (Local Education Agency) may not permit a male student to compete, with a designated team for students in female gender in an interscholastic sporting activity.” He defines “sex” as “the biological and physical condition of being male or female, determined by an individual’s genetics and anatomy at birth.”

While sex is a category that largely refers to physiology, a person’s gender is an innate sense of identity. Factors that go into determining the sex listed on a birth certificate can include anatomy, genetics, and hormones, and there is wide natural variation within each of these categories. For this reason, critics have said that the language of “biological sex”, as used in this legislation, is overly simplistic and misleading.

“We must work to preserve the integrity of women’s sport and ensure it remains fair and safe for all,” Utah Senate President Stuart Adams, a Republican, said in a statement earlier this year. week. “We have listened to our constituents, spoken to experts, and believe it is important to make decisions now that protect athletes and ensure women are not excluded from their sport.”

The debate over the inclusion of transgender athletes, especially women and girls, has become a political flashpoint, especially among conservatives. Utah is the 12th state to impose such a ban on its books in recent years, and it joins Iowa and South Dakota in doing so this year.

The law is due to come into force in July.

The ban immediately drew criticism from the Utah Jazz NBA team, who said they oppose “discriminatory legislation. We are committed to our values ​​of inclusiveness, mutual respect and fair play. Beyond basketball, we hope for a fair solution that shows love and compassion for all of our youth.”

The law underwent a ‘last minute’ overhaul

Vetoing the bill on Tuesday, Cox said legislation on the issue for which he had previously expressed support had undergone “major revisions proposed at the last minute” that created the “comprehensive ban” now in books.

“It is important to note that a full ban was never discussed, never contemplated, never debated, and never received public input until the Legislative Assembly passed the bill on the 45th and final evening of the session,” he said.

Following the waiver, Cox said he was “reassured that the Legislature has agreed to indemnify the school districts and the Utah High School Athletics Association for the enormous financial burden that the inevitable litigation will have on them. I remains hopeful that we will continue to work towards a more inclusive, just and compassionate policy during the interim.”

HB 11 states that if a court ever overturns the ban, the decision would trigger the creation of a commission that would “establish a baseline range of physical characteristics for students participating in a specific gender-designated activity at a specific age to provide the context for assessing a student’s eligibility for a gender-designated interscholastic activity.

The commission would review cases on an individual basis to determine a trans student’s eligibility to compete. In making a decision, board members would consider whether the student might “present a substantial risk to the safety of the student or others that significantly outweighs the risks inherent in the given activity” or “would likely give the student a significant competitive advantage when compared to students of the same age participating in the relevant gender-designated activity, including consideration of the student’s history of participation in gender-designated interscholastic activities. »

Proponents of these measures have argued that transgender women and girls have physical advantages over cisgender women and girls in sports. But a 2017 report in the journal Sports Medicine that reviewed several related studies found “no direct or consistent research” on trans people having an athletic advantage over their cisgender peers, and critics say this legislation adds to the discrimination that trans people face, especially trans youth.

In a notable departure from how other GOP governors have discussed the issue, Cox was sympathetic to the issue when he explained to lawmakers why he vetoed HB 11. He pointed out in a letter to leaders of the state’s Republican-led legislature that only four of the 75,000 high school athletes in his state are transgender.

“Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so little. I don’t understand what they are going through or why they feel the way they do. But I want them to live,” he wrote, noting that studies have shown that high suicide rates among trans students can be reduced when they are shown “even a little acceptance and connection”.

Similar efforts in other states

On Monday, Republican Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb also vetoed a ban on anti-trans sports in his state, arguing that it was drafted too broadly and that he found “no proof” that the problem his state’s bill sought to address existed.

Opponents of the bans have had limited legal success fighting the measures, including last year when a federal judge temporarily blocked West Virginia’s enforcement of its ban after athlete advocates sued state, with the judge saying he had “received little evidence that this law solves any problem, let alone a significant problem.” And in 2020, a federal judge blocked Idaho’s enforcement of its sports ban.

Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project, a nonprofit that works on suicide prevention among LGBTQ youth, pointed to Holcomb and Cox’s vetoes in a statement Friday.

“This bill highlights an issue of ‘fairness’ in school sports that simply does not exist – but its negative impacts on the mental health and well-being of trans and non-binary youth are well These young people already face disproportionate rates of bullying, depression and risk of suicide, and bills like this will only make matters worse.”

This story has been updated with additional reactions and background information.

CNN’s Hannah Sarisohn and Shawna Mizelle contributed to this report.


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