Legislature to meet in special session following veto of transgender athlete bill

Utah State Capitol. Photo: Gephardt Daily/Patrick Benedict

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, March 22, 2022 (Gephardt Daily) — Utah Gov. Spencer Cox on Tuesday followed through on his promise to veto a bill banning transgender athletes from competing in girls sports, saying the legislation “has fundamental flaws and should be reconsidered.”

Shortly after vetoing HB11, Cox called for a special session of the Utah Legislature at 2 p.m. Friday to consider financial and legal issues related to the bill.

In a letter to Senate President Stuart Adams and House Speaker Brad Wilson explaining his veto, the Republican governor notes that HB11 was “substantially changed in the final hours of the legislative session with no public input and in a way that will likely bankrupt the Utah High School Athletic Association and result in millions of dollars in legal fees for local school districts with no state protection.”

“I believe in fairness and protecting the integrity of women’s sports,” Cox states in the letter, noting that the “transgender sports participation issue is one of the most divisive of our time.”

HB11 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 also defines a person’s sex as “the biological, physical condition of being male or female, determined by an individual’s genetics and anatomy at birth.”

Cox says HB11 puts “our entire state athletics program in danger” because lawmakers did not understand the financial impacts on the UHSAA, which will “inevitably get sued under this bill.”

“The UHSAA has been clear that if the state ever attempted a ban (on transgender athletes participating in sports), the state would also need to provide indemnification to hold the organization harmless in the forthcoming lawsuit,” the governor states in the letter. “Unfortunately, HB11 provides no financial protection for the UHSAA, only an explicit invitation for a lawsuit.”

In a statement following the veto, Rep. Wilson, R-Kaysville, said the governor’s action was expected, “and I anticipate that we will have sufficient votes to override the veto.”

“Ultimately, the Legislature recognizes the value of girls athletics, and our members want to ensure girls have the level playing field to compete that was created by Title IX,” Wilson said.

Adams, R-Layton, defended HB11 in a statement Tuesday.

“We must work to preserve the integrity of women’s sports and ensure it remains fair and safe for all,” the Senate president said. “We have been listing to our constituents, talking with experts, and we feel it’s important to make decisions now that protect athletes and ensure women are not edged out of their sport.

“Creating a safe and fair environment for athletes takes work. We care deeply for all students, but we can not ignore the scientific facts that biological boys are built differently than girls. Doing nothing is taking a step backward for women. Finding a solution to this complicated issue is necessary to maintain fair competition now and in the future,” Adams said.

In his letter to legislative leadership, Cox states there are just four transgender athletes among the 75,000 high schoolers participating in sports in Utah, and only one of those is a transgender student playing girls sports.

The first-term governor also noted the high rates of transgender youth reporting suicidality (86%) and attempting to take their own life (56%).

“Four kids and only one of them playing girls sports,” Cox states in the letter. “That’s what all of this is about. Four kids who aren’t dominating or winning trophies or taking scholarships. Four kids who are just trying to find some friends and feel like they are a part of something. 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,” he wrote.

HB11, sponsored by Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, and Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, passed 16-13 in the Senate and 46-29 in the House on March 4 — the final night of the 45-day legislative session.


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