The Utah state legislature has reversed Gov. Spencer Cox’s veto of HB 11, the Student Eligibility in Interscholastic Activities bill. HB 11 includes a last-minute clause that would prevent athletes identifying as transgender, specifically biological males who are transitioning to a female identity, from participating in school sports.
As transgender athletes dominate women’s athletic events across the country—like Lia Thomas (formerly William Thomas) did this winter in NCAA women’s swimming—lawmakers in mostly conservative states have a growing interest in passing bills that protect biological women and their sports.
After a contentious debate, Utah lawmakers were able to override Cox’s veto and pass HB 11 on March 25.
Cox, a Republican, said in a lengthy retort that he vetoed the legislation over concerns it would “bankrupt the Utah High School Athletic Association.”
“The transgender sports participation issue is one of the most divisive of our time,” Cox said. “Because there are logical and passionate arguments by many parties, finding compromise or common ground can be difficult. Sadly, there is little room for nuance in this debate.”
Anticipating legal challenges, the Utah government has already appropriated $500,000 for forthcoming lawsuits.
The American Civil Liberties Union is already in line to begin a lawsuit, saying in a written statement: “We are deeply disappointed and saddened at today’s votes by the Utah Legislature to discriminate against transgender youth to exclude them from participating fully on sports teams. Litigation to stop H.B. 11 from taking effect is now both necessary and inevitable to ensure Constitutional promises of equal protection to all Utahns.”
But groups like the ACLU are ignoring the physiology that gives biological males a clear advantage over women in most physical competitions, as a group of female high school track athletes testified last year in Connecticut after losing state championship races to transgender competitors.
Thomas, a University of Pennsylvania swimmer, destroyed the competition in most of the NCAA races, at one point beating Olympic individual medley silver medalist Emma Weyant by well over a second, an incredibly wide margin for a sporting event that’s often determined by milliseconds.
One of the sponsors for the bill, Republican state Rep. Kera Birkeland, said about overriding the veto, “I truly believe we’re here to uphold Title IX, to preserve the integrity of women’s sports and to do so in a way unlike other states.”
Despite the override, two state House and Senate Republicans sided with the governor, mostly citing concerns over legal costs.
House Minority Leader Brian King was met with scorn from the public when he said, “Things are not simply black and white, in terms of gender orientation, sexual orientation, gender identification. It’s definitely not accurate to say that girls are girls and boys are boys. Our public education students deserve better than that from us.”
But young females across the country have increasingly been denied scholarship, placement and award opportunities because of biological males competing in women’s events.
“Somebody identifying as a girl, I don’t believe based on that alone, should give them the opportunity to deny the right and opportunities to another girl,” Rep. Birkeland said.
Above: Utah State House
Photo: William Scott/Alamy