Utah's GOP Governor Breaks With Party, Won't Sign Transgender Athlete Ban

Utah Governor Spencer Cox said Friday that he will strike down legislation that would ban transgender girls from participating in sports leagues that correspond with their gender identity after state legislators in the House and Senate advanced their transgender athlete ban.

Cox, a Republican, broke with his party and told reporters he was "very disappointed in the process" after the bill passed, which was altered by state Republicans and had been under consideration for weeks, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

In an interview with the newspaper, the governor said, "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."

The original version of the legislation would have required transgender athletes to appear before a commission to consider their requests to participate in sports teams matching their gender identity. The legislation was criticized by LGBTQ advocates who called it a betrayal while social conservative Republicans wanted a wider ban.

Local news station KUTV reported that Republican State Senator Dan McCay introduced the transgender athlete ban proposal on Friday, noting that lawmakers had failed to reach a compromise on the issue. McCay said that if Utah's courts struck down the legislation, the commission for transgender athletes would be established.

"Having both of those options on the table is an important place for us as a state to land," the senator said, who also mentioned his daughters who play sports. "As a father, I feel it's my responsibility. I've got to protect them."

Cox's decision to veto the bill comes as nearly a dozen states have instituted transgender athlete bans. These states include South Dakota, Idaho, Montana, Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, and West Virginia.

Utah Governor Won’t Sign Transgender Athlete Ban
Utah Governor Spencer Cox said Friday that he will strike down legislation that would have banned transgender girls from participating on sports leagues that correspond with their gender identity. Above, Cox, talks after hearing testimony in an unofficial hearing, before members of the Utah House and Senate along with several hundred gay and lesbian rights supporters in support of Utah bill SB100 at the Utah State Capitol on February 26, 2014 in Salt Lake City. George Frey

On Friday, LGBTQ advocates sharply criticized the newly-passed legislation.

"This is a betrayal of Utah's LGTBQ community. It's a betrayal of the hard work done by people on both sides who came together to find common ground," Equality Utah, an LGBTQ advocacy group, tweeted on Friday. "We have failed our state's transgender children, who just want to be treated with kindness and respect."

Later, the group applauded Cox for pledging to veto the bill.

"Thank you Governor for protecting transgender children! With your veto, HB 11 is dead. We are in tears," the group wrote.

Newsweek reached out to the Cox's office for comment on his decision to veto the legislation, but did not receive a response before publication on Sunday morning.