Utah lawmakers plan to override governor's veto of transgender athlete bill

Gov. Spencer Cox also is seeking a special legislative session to discuss financial and legal issue surrounding the legislation.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R)

Utah lawmakers are returning to Salt Lake City on Friday to override Gov. Spencer Cox's veto of a bill that would completely ban transgender athletes from participating in school sports.

Cox has also called Tuesday for a special session to discuss financial and legal issues surrounding the bill – House Bill 11 – according to a news release.

The Legislature passed the measure just before ending its session last month, surprising Cox and others with the complete ban. The ban applies to middle and high school students and not collegiate athletes.

Earlier discussions had included a commission that would have decided whether transgender athletes could compete in sports on an individual basis.

"While changes are inevitable, this was more than just a cosmetic change," Cox said in a letter to lawmakers. "This was a complete reversal of every discussion, public or private."

The bill would have a financial impact on the Utah High School Athletic Association (UHSAA) and local school boards, Cox said.

"With several lawsuits already being litigated across the country, why would Utah insist – even encourage – expensive and debilitating legal action with no recourse for the organization that serves our own student athletes and schools?" Cox wrote. "I hope you can agree that if we want to protect women’s sports, bankrupting the institution that is responsible for their participation is a bad place to start."

Senate President Stuart Adams and House Speaker Brad Wilson said they polled legislators and had the two-thirds majority needed to override the veto.

“Members of the Legislature, including the sponsor, have worked tirelessly for more than a year to find the best way to approach a complex issue, and I anticipate that we will have sufficient votes to override the veto," Wilson said in a news release. "Ultimately, the Legislature recognizes the value of girls athletics and our members want to ensure girls have the level playing field to compete that was created by Title IX.”

Four transgender students are participating in sports in Utah out of 75,000, Cox wrote.

"Four kids and only one of them playing girls sports," Cox said. "That’s what all of this is about. Four kids who aren’t dominating or winning trophies or taking scholarships. 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."

Adams said it was about preserving "the integrity of women’s sports and ensure it remains fair and safe for all."

"We care deeply for all students, but we can not ignore the scientific facts that biological boys are built differently than girls," Adams said. "Doing nothing is taking a step backward for women."