Indiana’s Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb has vetoed a bill that sought to ban transgender student-athletes from competing in sports designated for girls — a surprise move that veers from actions taken by 11 other Republican governors in recent years.
In vetoing the bill, Holcomb expressed concerns that it would be vulnerable to a legal challenge, just as similar laws seeking to bar transgender athletes from competing in other states have been blocked by federal courts. He also questioned whether the bill addressed any pressing issue, writing in a letter to lawmakers explaining his veto that the bill presumes “that there is an existing problem in K-12 sports in Indiana that requires further state government intervention.”
“It implies that the goals of consistency and fairness in competitive female sports are not currently being met,” Holcomb wrote in his letter. “After thorough review, I find no evidence to support either claim even if I support the overall goal.”
He also noted that in the past 10 years, no transgender student has completed the process established by the Indiana High School Athletic Association to request to participate on female-designated sports teams.
Holcomb’s veto may be overridden by his fellow Republicans in the GOP-dominated legislature, who hold veto-proof majorities and have largely hailed the bill’s passage as a necessary step to ensure that cisgender females do not lose out on the chance to win awards, qualify for higher-level meets, or earn college scholarships, which could occur if they are forced to compete against transgender girls.
According to The New York Times, Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita previously praised the bill as “an important step in protecting youth sports,” adding: “We welcome the opportunity to defend this law if challenged in court.”
Transgender sports participation has become a controversial issue in the past few years, with conservatives increasingly pushing bans to eliminate what they see as an unfair physical advantage enjoyed by athletes who were assigned male at birth. Although the first signs of opposition to transgender sports participation emerged during the Trump administration after two transgender athletes in Connecticut won several titles in track and field, more recently, much of the conversation has been focused on the success of University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, who became the first out transgender woman to win an NCAA swimming title.
LGBTQ advocates and some Democratic allies in state legislatures have criticized bans on transgender athletes as unnecessary and a political stunt undertaken by Republicans in an effort to appeal to socially conservative voters. Most major LGBTQ organizations praised Holcomb’s veto, even though there is the possibility it could likely be overturned.
“Governor Holcomb did the right thing tonight in vetoing a bill that would only cause problems, not solve them, by targeting Indiana’s transgender children and making them the targets of exclusion and discrimination in their own schools,” Cathryn Oakley, the state legislative director and senior counsel for the Human Rights Campaign,” said in a statement.
Although the general trend has been for Republicans to embrace bans on transgender participation in female-designated sports, Holcomb is not the only GOP governor to reject such a measure. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum vetoed a similar bill last year. This year, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox pledged to veto a similar measure after Republicans in the legislature introduced a surprise version of a ban that undermined efforts to reach a compromise with Democrats and LGBTQ advocates.
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