Utah Gov. Spencer Cox stated that he will veto Friday's legislation that would prohibit transgender student athletes from participating in girls sports.
Without his support, Utah will not join the 11 Republican-led states that recently banned transgender girls from participating in school sports leagues that are compatible with their gender identity.
Cox addressed transgender student athletes directly by pledging to veto the bill. He said that they were the ones who found themselves in political debate due to no fault of theirs.
Cox stated, "I want them to know it's OK. We'll get through this."
For months, the governor worked behind-the scenes to reach a compromise between LGBTQ advocates as well as social conservatives.
After supporting , a proposal to establish a commission of experts to decide on individual transgender student athletes aspiring to participate in the program, Cox stated that he was shocked to see lawmakers advance and pass an amended proposal which included an outright ban for transgender student athletes competing in girls leagues.
After passing through the state Senate, House and House on Friday, legislation was sent to Cox. It bans "biological men" -- which it defines at birth as an individual's genetics or anatomy -- from girls leagues. It was supported by those who believed it would provide fairness and safety for girls, and prevent cultural shifts that could result in more transgender children wanting to participate in girls' sports in the future.
Republican state senator Curt Bramble stated that boys can run faster, jump higher, and throw farther than girls of the same age.
He said, "It's unfair to have individuals who are born males compete against naturally-born females.
The original "School Activity Eligibility Commission" proposal would have included a mixture of experts in transgender and sports medicine. It was ultimately rejected by both those who supported and those who opposed a ban.
Although they prefer it to an outright ban of transgender children appearing before the panel, LGBTQ advocates were concerned that they would be targeted. It didn't protect girls sports, according to social conservatives supported by a larger group of Republican lawmakers.
Utah has not been accused of transgender players enjoying competitive advantages. Last year , the Associated Press reached out two dozen legislators in more than 20 states that are considering similar youth sports legislation and found it was rarely an issue for the hundreds of thousands teenagers who participate in high school sports.
The legislation was sent to the governor to refute what the commission advocates, including Rep. Kera Birkeland the bill's sponsor, believed to be one of their strongest arguments: that Utah courts would likely stop them from enforcing an order banning smoking, much as they do in states like Idaho.
The final ban retained portions of the original proposal. It also designated the commission as a back up, in case Utah courts prohibit Utah from enforcing bans.
Birkeland, who is a high school basketball coach when she's not in the Legislature said that her intent to introduce a transgender youth sport bill for the second consecutive year was based on conversations with transgender or cisgender students.
Although Utah legislators ended up in the same place, Birkeland's remarks were markedly different from those made in Iowa by lawmakers. In Iowa, one senator presented a ban to be a stand against "wokeness", and part of an ongoing culture war.
Birkeland stated that she was frustrated by the number of conversations about politics and her proposed commission.
Although she expects the legislation to be challenged, she ultimately supported the amended legislation. She said that if the courts enjoin the ban, the commission will continue working as intended.
Equality Utah, a group representing LGBTQ rights, was shocked by the passing of the legislation.
The group released a statement saying that they had "failed our state's transgender kids, who just want to receive kindness and respect."
Most places make eligibility decisions about transgender children through sports associations like the Utah High School Athletic Association. Four transgender students have been through the eligibility determination process of the Utah High School Athletic Association, out of approximately 85,000 student-athletes who play high school sports.
Youth sports are now a major policy issue in Republican-majority states. No state had passed a law regarding transgender youth sports participation before 2020. Since then, 11 states have passed laws prohibiting transgender girls from participating in youth sports leagues that correspond with their gender identity. These include Alabama, Arkansas Florida, Idaho Idaho, Mississippi, Montana South Dakota, Tennessee and West Virginia.
This week, Indiana lawmakers passed a ban and sent it to the governor. Eric Holcomb to final approval.
There are many types of bans. Some ban transgender girls. This has been the main topic of debate in many statehouses. Others go so far as to include college athletics.
Two-thirds majority in each chamber means that lawmakers can override the governor's veto. However, some Republicans are opposed to this scenario.