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Utah Gov. Spencer Cox to veto last-minute bill banning transgender school athletes

By Calley Hair
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox to veto last-minute bill banning transgender school athletes
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox addresses reporters at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 4, 2022. Photo courtesy of Spencer Cox/Twitter

March 5 (UPI) -- Utah Gov. Spencer Cox has already said he'll veto a surprise bill banning transgender girls from competing in school sports after the state legislature introduced, debated and passed it late Friday night, just hours before the 45-day session adjourned.

The text of the bill expressly prohibits "a student of the male sex from competing against another school on a team designated for female students," regardless of their gender identity. It defines sex as "the biological, physical condition of being male or female, determined by an individual's genetics and anatomy at birth."

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Cox, a Republican, said ahead of the vote that he'll veto the bill as soon as it lands on his desk and criticized the abrupt nature of the process.

"We've never talked about it, we've never debated it, we never had any public input on it. So the process is, I believe, the wrong process," Cox told KUTV.

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The governor said in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune that he didn't understand why the legislature would want to open the state up to litigation and potentially waste taxpayer dollars over this issue.

"Anyone that's interacted with the transgender community understands how amazing they are and how difficult it can be for them. I don't want to make things harder for them than they have to be," Cox said.

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Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, a Republican, lauded Cox's decision on Twitter.

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"In my 10 years on Capitol Hill, I have never felt as sick over the debate or outcome of a bill as I did over this one tonight. Veto is the right call," she wrote.

Legislators were originally scheduled to debate a bill that would establish a commission to determine the eligibility of transgender athletes to compete in their gender-affirming sport.

Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, introduced the substitute bill that would block transgender school athletes altogether. He said during the floor debate that he felt it was his "responsibility" to "protect" his daughters.

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"There isn't an easy place to draw a line," McCay said.

Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, said it's the legislature's duty to advocate for cisgender girls who "feel like they're the monsters" because they're uncomfortable competing against transgender girls.

Some Republicans, however, joined the legislature's Democratic minority in opposing the bill. Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, spoke vehemently in objection.

"I'm disappointed in the message we're going to send to these kids tonight. These kids who just want to be normal, who just want to be loved, who just want to be seen, who just want to live," Thatcher said.

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Neither the 16-13 vote in the Senate nor the 46-29 vote in the House established veto-proof majorities.

LGBTQ advocacy group Equity Utah said on Twitter that the saga late Friday created "a rollercoaster of emotion."

"Thank you Governor for protecting transgender children! With your veto, HB 11 is dead. We are in tears. Thank you to every lawmaker, Democrat and Republican who voted against this insidious ban," the group wrote.

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