Utah's Spencer Cox Vetoes Transgender Sports Ban, Second GOP Gov. to Do So

Utah Governor Spencer Cox has become the second Republican governor in as many days to veto a bill from the state legislature banning transgender girls from participating in youth sports, joining Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb, who did so on Monday.

Cox said in a letter to the Republican leaders of the state Senate and House explaining his veto that he believed the bill was changed too much in the final hours before the vote without necessary input from the public.

"Finally, there is one more important reason for this veto," Cox wrote toward the end of his letter. "I must admit, I am not an expert on transgenderism. I struggle to understand so much of it and the science is conflicting. When in doubt however, I always try to err on the side of kindness, mercy and compassion. I also try to get proximate and I am learning so much from our transgender community. They are great kids who face enormous struggles."

In his letter, Cox also cited the fact that four transgender students are currently playing high school sports in Utah, only one of which is participating in girls sports.

"Four kids who aren't dominating or winning trophies or taking scholarships," Cox wrote. "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."

Earlier this month, Cox said he would veto the bill once it reached his desk because of the alterations that were made in the hours before the final vote was taken, Newsweek previously reported.

He applauded the state's consistent efforts to work with LGBTQ organizations in the past. Cox added he was proud that state lawmakers were meeting with the LGBTQ groups to determine the best path forward, and potentially allow some transgender children to participate in sports as decided by a commission of experts.

However, in the hours leading up to the final vote on the last day of the legislative session, reports surfaced of an addition to the bill that would amount to an outright ban on transgender participation in youth sports. It would only revert to the commission system to decide on a case-by-case basis if a court struck down the outright ban.

Under the bill as it was passed, Cox wrote in his explanation letter that it would have likely led to the state high school sports association, a private entity, and school districts being involved in legal battles that could be lengthy and expensive.

Cox also wrote in his letter that he believes state lawmakers have the numbers necessary to override his veto, and if that occurs, he is committed to calling a special session to address his issues with the bill, including the financial ramifications.

Under current Utah law, transgender students are only allowed to participate in youth or high school sports after at least a year of hormone therapy, which is only undertaken if it is medically advised by a doctor. Cox said he believes, based on some of their comments, that some state lawmakers believe anyone can just publicly identify as transgender and immediately participate and dominate girls sports, which, he said, is a problem that is nonexistent.

Supporters of a ban say they believe athletes like Lia Thomas, a transgender woman who recently won an NCAA championship and has broken women's swimming records at the college level for the University of Pennsylvania, would set a precedent for transgender female athletes participating in girls sports at an unfair biological advantage.

Cox wrote that while he agrees Thomas' performances are a legitimate concern, there are issues with using it as justification for a ban in Utah.

In the original version of the bill, Cox wrote, the proposed commission would solve the issue of a dominant athlete by ruling that they should not participate. He also said that the version of the bill passed by state lawmakers includes a ban for youth and high school sports, not college, where Thomas is currently competing.

Eleven other states have passed legislation that bans transgender women from participating in sports that align with their gender identity, with several others considering a similar ban after the recent vetoes by Cox and Holcomb.

Update 3/22/22, 5:30 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with additional information and context.

Utah Spencer Cox Transgender Sprots
Utah Governor Spencer Cox has vetoed a bill that would have stopped transgender girls from playing in youth sports. Above, the Utah National Guard troops and Utah Highway Patrol officers stand guard at the Utah State Capitol building in Salt Lake City, Utah, on January 17, 2021. George Frey/AFP via Getty Images