Republican governor chokes up talking about trans kids and urges lawmakers to ‘pause’ school sports ban

spencer cox utah gov

Republican Utah governor Spencer Cox choked up speaking about the issues facing trans teenagers as he announced he would not sign the current version of a bill to ban trans inclusion in school sports.

Spencer Cox said he is “not comfortable” with the existing language of the bill recently passed by the Utah House of Representatives that would ban trans girls from competing in sports in Utah.

An emotional Cox spoke during his monthly news conference with PBS Utah about the anti-trans bill. He explained that can understand “both sides of this issue”, but he no longer supported the bill’s current wording after talking to trans youth.

However, Spencer Cox admitted he still thinks there are “biological advantages with your birth gender”.

Cox added: “It is also a fact that women’s sports has had a disadvantage for many, many years.

“We’ve gotten better, but we still have a ways to go.”

Spencer Cox shared he had started to spend more time with trans kids, hearing their stories and it greatly affected how he viewed the bill and the LGBT+ community. He said: “These kids are … they’re just trying to stay alive.

“There’s a reason none of them are playing sports.”

Spencer Cox said he will now be working with the bill’s sponsor, republican representative Kera Birkeland, to find a better “way” forward with the bill. He added: “I don’t understand all of this. I don’t. But I’m trying to understand more.

“I’m trying to listen and learn and again, trying to help kids figure out who they are and keep them alive.”

He urged those who haven’t spent time with trans youth to “pause on this issue”.

The Utah bill is one of many anti-trans sports bills in the US right now.

HB 302, which passed through the Utah House on Wednesday (17 February), would require schools to categorise all athletic activities as “male”, “female” or “co-ed”. The bill would prevent trans youth from participating on the team which aligns with their gender identity because it defines sex as the “biological, physical condition of being male or female, determined by an individual’s genetics and anatomy at birth”.

Birkland, who proposed the bill, told Deseret News in a text message: “I look forward to learning what changes or language the governor is hoping for.”

At least 22 bills in 17 states, including Utah, are attempting to ban trans kids from participating in sports.

The North Dakota House of Representatives passed a bill that would ban trans athletes from joining teams that match their gender identity. The measure, which passed 65 to 26, also called for withholding state funds from sporting events that allow athletes to play on teams that do not align with their sex assigned at birth.

Similar anti-trans bills are also being debated in Montana, Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee, Arizona and New Hampshire.