Gov. Cox: transgender sports bill among the most difficult this session

In an emotional response, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said that HB302 — a bill that would ban transgender girls from competing on girls’ sports teams in schools — is one of the most complicated and difficult bills being considered this legislative session.

“The main reason that it is complicated and difficult is that both sides of this issue are actually right,” Cox said in response to a question at his monthly news conference. “There’s a lot of passion. There’s a lot of fiery rhetoric and name-calling on both sides of this issue that I think is very unfortunate.”

“The bill’s sponsor [Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan] is coming from a genuine place of concern, and I don’t think demonizing her intention is valid at all,” he said.

“It is a threat to women’s sports,” Cox said. “But also, and this is where we need to be very, very careful. If you have not spent time with transgender youth, then I would encourage you to pause on this issue. We have so many people who are in a very, very difficult spot right now.”

Cox noted that very few, if any, transgender girls are currently participating in school sports.

“We’ve gotten really good at the LGBQ side of things, but we are struggling on the T side of things,” he said. “I’m meeting with the sponsor to find if there is a Utah way to solve this issue.”

“I’m not in a place right now where I’m comfortable with the bill as it stands right now,” he said. “I think there’s much that we can do to protect women’s sports and also to send a message to trans kids that there is a place for them and that they belong.”

Saying it was very important to him that trans kids feel there is a place for them, the governor paused to choke back emotion.

“These kids are … they’re just trying to stay alive,” “There’s a reason none of them are playing sports. I just think there’s a better way, and I hope that there will be enough grace in our state to find a better solution.”

Cox said he doesn’t fully understand the issue and is working to educate himself on it, and apologized for becoming emotional.

“When you spend time with these kids, it changes your heart in important ways,”

The bill passed the Utah House earlier this week and is moving on to the Senate where Sen. Curt Bramble is the sponsor.

Utah is one of more than 20 states where similar bills were introduced, pushed by ultra-conservative organizations.

A similar bill passed last year in Idaho was put on hold by a federal judge while he hears arguments from both sides. The judge said Idaho’s law was likely unconstitutional and passed strictly due to animus against transgender people, prompting him to grant a preliminary injunction that stalled its implementation.

Birkeland testified the bill would ensure fairness by making sure female athletes aren’t competing against those identified as male at birth. She has not detailed any cases of openly transgender athletes playing school sports in Utah.

Opponents, though, say the bill would discriminate against kids who are already marginalized and if passed could expose the state to lost revenue, as when North Carolina passed the so-called “bathroom bill” in 2016. It also runs counter to Democratic President Joe Biden’s executive order prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity in school sports.

This bill is one of two that were introduced in this year’s legislative session. The other, which is stalled in committee and likely dead, would bar doctors from providing gender-confirming medical care for transgender youth in the state. At the press conference, Cox said that he has “threatened to veto” that bill but suggested common ground could be found. The bill was sent back to the House Rules Committee — a move generally used to remove it from consideration for the current session.

In a statement, Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams said the bill’s failure “is a great victory for transgender children.”

To read the bill and to find its current status, go to le.utah.gov/~2021/bills/static/HB0302.html

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