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Lawmaker presses Utah's governor to change his mind about veto of transgender athletics bill

Posted at 4:05 PM, Mar 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-15 19:09:06-04

SALT LAKE CITY — The sponsor of a floor amendment that banned transgender students from participating in school sports met with Governor Spencer Cox on Tuesday in an effort to persuade him not to veto the controversial legislation.

"I tried to lay out the case for why I thought, from both a legal as well as societal position, that House Bill 11 offered a lot of solutions. Right now, if just a veto goes into effect there really won’t be any solution, right?" Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, told FOX 13 News following his meeting.

House Bill 11 passed in the final hours of the legislative session, but faced an immediate veto threat from the governor. The bill originally proposed creation of a special commission to evaluate transgender students' eligibility to play middle and high school sports.

It was disliked by social conservatives, who favored a ban, and LGBTQ rights groups, who opposed the commission and measuring the physical characteristics of students. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, proposed the commission as a middle ground. Gov. Cox pushed for a compromise, stripping out the physical characteristics measurements.

That version of the bill was introduced in the Senate, but Sen. McCay had his floor amendment: it banned transgender students from playing sports but preserved the special commission as a fallback if Utah lost a lawsuit. That version passed both chambers.

"It was clear from talking to everybody in both House and Senate that there was a preference even among our constituency for a ban," said Sen. McCay. "So it will be interesting to see how our governor weighs that component because he’s going to hear from his constituents as well."

Gov. Cox said there was never discussion of a ban in all of his negotiations with lawmakers on the bill. He told reporters on the final night of the session he would veto the bill, expressing concern for already vulnerable transgender children.

"We’ll veto that and take more time to have the discussion," he told FOX 13 News at the time, adding that lawmakers did not secure the threshold needed to automatically override his veto.

In a statement on Tuesday, the governor's office said he is willing to listen to various viewpoints. But Sen. McCay told FOX 13 News that following his meeting, he did not get the sense the governor was changing his mind.

"He’s been clear about that and I don’t think the governor plans to change from his decision," Sen. McCay said of the veto threat.

Troy Williams, the executive director of Equality Utah, criticized the bill.

"It's sad that Sen. McCay has demonstrated so little empathy and compassion for a minority group of LGBTQ children. There are literally four transgender children that are registered to play high school sports in Utah. Only four out of 85,000 athletes in Utah high schools," he said in a statement. "Sen. McCay’s ban of these four children has now made him a hero to fringe anti-LGBTQ extremists. I wonder if he is now truly feeling brave and heroic?"

Sen. McCay said he believed the issue was not going away. A number of other states have already passed bans on transgender children playing school sports (and faced lawsuits for it).

"What we’re seeing is an increase of potentially participation by trans women and I think we need to figure out what is the right policy and how do we balance everyone’s interests," he said. "I don’t feel like anybody should feel like they’re being picked on or singled out no more than women should be picked on or singled out by having Title IX in place."