Transgender sports ban veto likely to be overridden in UtahPublished at
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah’s Republican lawmakers were preparing for a Friday push to override Gov. Spencer Cox’s veto of legislation banning transgender youth athletes from playing on girls teams, a move that comes amid a brewing nationwide culture war over transgender issues.
Cox was the second GOP governor this week to overrule state lawmakers on a sports-participation ban, and his veto letter drew national attention with a poignant argument that such laws target vulnerable kids who already have high rates of suicide attempts. Business leaders are sounding the alarm that it could have a multimillion-dollar economic impact for the state, including the possible loss of the NBA All-Star Game in less than a year.
But they have support from a vocal conservative base that has particular sway in Utah’s state primary season unfolding now. Eleven other states have enacted similar bans, and Arizona lawmakers voted to join them Thursday.
Leaders in the deeply conservative Legislature say they need to pass the law to protect women’s sports. They argue transgender athletes can have a physical advantage and could eventually dominate the field and change the nature of women’s sports.
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Utah has only one transgender girl playing in K-12 sports who would be affected by the ban. There have been no allegations of any of the four transgender youth athletes in Utah having a competitive advantage.
The owner of the Utah Jazz, tech entrepreneur Ryan Smith, tweeted opposition to the bill, saying it was “rushed, flawed and won’t hold up over time. I’m hopeful we can find a better way.”
The team is also partially owned by NBA all-star Dwyane Wade, who has a transgender daughter.
Salt Lake City is set to host the NBA All-Star game in February 2023. League spokesman Mike Bass has said the league is “working closely” with the Jazz on the matter.
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The group Visit Salt Lake, which hosts conferences, shows and events, said the override could cost the state $50 million in lost revenue. The Utah-based DNA-testing genealogy giant Ancestry.com also urged the Legislature to find another way.
On Thursday, hundreds of people rallied at the state Capitol to urge lawmakers not to override the veto.
Utah has historically been among the nation’s most conservative states. But an influx of new residents and technology companies coupled with the growing influence of the tourism industry often sets the stage for heated debate over social issues in the state home to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Friday’s deliberations come after more than a year of debate and negotiation between social conservatives and LGBTQ advocates. Republican sponsor Rep. Kera Birkeland worked with Cox and civil rights activists at Equality Utah before introducing legislation that would require transgender student-athletes to go before a government-appointed commission.
The proposal, although framed as a compromise, failed to gain traction on either side. LGBTQ advocates took issue with Republican politicians appointing commission members and evaluation criteria that included body measurements such as hip-to-knee ratio.
Then, in the final hours before the Legislature was set to adjourn earlier this month, GOP lawmakers supplanted the legislation with an all-out ban.
The measure didn’t originally pass with veto-proof majorities, but its supporters say they have since swayed enough Republican lawmakers to ensure an override.
Lawmakers anticipate court challenges similar to blocked bans in Idaho and West Virginia. Utah’s policy would revert to the commission if courts halt the ban.
The looming threat of a lawsuit worries school districts and the Utah High School Athletic Association, which has said it lacks the funds to defend the policy in court. On Friday, lawmakers are expected to change the bill so state money would cover legal fees.