Utah governor Spencer Cox promises to veto ‘insidious’ trans sports ban

Utah governor Spencer Cox wears a blue suit, white shirt and grey striped tie while speaking at a press conference

Governor Spencer Cox has promised to veto a trans sports ban that was passed through in the last hours of the Utah legislative session. 

State lawmakers debated and passed House Bill 11 (HB 11) on Friday (4 March) night, just before the end of the Utah Legislature’s 2022 general session. The proposed legislation would prohibit trans girls who want to compete in school sports teams corresponding with their gender identity. 

After an hour of debate, the Senate passed the bill with a 16-13 vote, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. The House approved the legislation a few minutes later with a 46-29 vote, and several Republicans joined Democrats to vote against the bill. 

The legislation now heads to Cox’s desk, and the Republican governor has promised to veto the bill immediately. 

In a news conference after the vote, Cox said he was “stunned” after lawmakers quickly passed an amended version of the bill that included a full ban on trans girls competing in girls sports leagues. 

A previous version of the bill sought to create a commission that would have determined the eligibility of individual students, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. But this part of the bill was scrapped on Friday in favour of an outright ban instead. 

“I was as stunned as most members of the Senate were,” Cox said. “Some of the worst decisions get made at the last minute.”

He also directly addressed trans youth in the state who might have been listening to the debate, telling them that everything is “going to be okay”. 

“We’re going to work through this,” Cox said. “We’re going to find a good path, and there are a lot of people that really love and care about them.”

Equality Utah welcomed Cox’s promise to veto the anti-trans bill and thanked him for “protesting transgender children”. 

“With your veto, HB 11 is dead,” Equality Utah tweeted. “We are in tears. Thank you to every lawmaker, Democrat and Republican who voted against this insidious ban.”

Republican senator Daniel Thatcher teared up in an emotional speech opposing the trans sports ban during the floor debate on Friday.

He said was disappointed that his fellow lawmakers voted to pass the bill and worried about the message it would send to trans youth, Deseret News reported. 

“Kids who just want to be loved, who just want to be seen, who just want to live,” Thatcher said. “I want them to know that I’m sorry that I couldn’t do more.”

He added: “I want them to know that we’re changing, and we are learning, and we are growing.”

Without Cox’s approval, it seems unlikely that Utah will join the 11 other states that have passed a trans sports ban into law. 

Iowa is the latest state to pass through such legislation after governor Kim Reynolds signed a bill banning trans athletes Thursday (3 March). 

Utah lawmakers could override the governor’s veto with a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers. However, it would be unlikely to happen in Utah as some Republicans have vocally opposed the ban, the Associated Press reported.