In his letter to Utah lawmakers explaining why he had vetoed the disgraceful HB11 — the measure banning transgender females from women’s and girl’s sports in the state’s public schools — Gov. Spencer Cox crafted a humane message that appeals to the mind and to the heart.
If, as expected, the Legislature proceeds to override the governor’s veto at its Friday special session, it will prove that a super-majority of that body has neither mind nor heart.
What lawmakers do have is eyes in the backs of their heads, perceiving that their own political careers may be in danger if they do not approve a measure that serves no purpose other than to play on the same irrational fears that the state’s political class whipped up in the first place, no matter who it wounds along the way.
Cox’s five-page letter to House Speaker Brad Wilson and Senate President Stuart Adams outlines the reasons why HB11, shockingly amended in the final hours of the legislative session from a long-sought if imperfect compromise to a harsh ban, ignored the kind of deliberative process such policy should receive. And how it raises a serious risk of causing deep psychological and emotional harm to many Utahns just to ban a very few from taking part in sports.
Because it really isn’t about sports at all. It’s about how our society treats the most vulnerable among us. Suicide is the leading cause of death among young people, and LGBTQ youth are particularly at risk. As Cox points out, 86% of transgender youth report contemplating suicide and 56% of transgender youth have attempted it.
Even LGBT young people who have absolutely no desire to run, dribble, pass, kick or swim cannot help but hear and feel how people like them are so actively shunned by the powers that be in politics, culture and education. The potential for additional harm is incalculable.
The governor noted a few key numbers: Out of 75,000 students participating in scholastic sports in Utah, four are transgender people. One is a transgender female. One.
The governor wrote:
Four kids and only one of them playing girls sports. 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. ... If a veto override occurs, I hope we can work to find ways to show these four kids that we love them and they have a place in our state.
Not if the Utah Legislature has anything to say about it.
The damage won’t be limited to those who want to play sports. The psyches and souls of these young people, those who love them, those who will come after them, those who love sports and those who don’t, are collateral damage in this cynical new wave of the culture wars.
Lawmakers who favor overriding the governor’s veto are incredibly brazen in their excuses.
They raise the specter of mediocre male athletes crashing into women’s sports, crushing their less-muscular opposition and snapping them with towels in the locker room. This argument willfully ignores the fact that, like other sports authorities around the world, the Utah High School Athletic Association already limits the participation of transgender females to those who have undergone a year of transition hormone therapy, a formidable hurdle to keep out the fakes.
Those who back HB11 also claim they are out to protect the integrity of sports for girls and women, preserving a safe opportunity for those who participate to grow and excel.
What unadulterated bunk.
If there is anything our state’s political leaders don’t care about, it’s opportunities for women. If they did, there are several things the Legislature could do before taking up the banner of Title IX.
They could ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. Protect the reproductive rights of all females. Put real, comprehensive sex education into the schools, especially the part about how to reject unwanted advances. Notice, and maybe even do something about, the fact that Utah is at the bottom of the heap in terms of the pay gap suffered by women in our workforce.
But none of those actions would help members of the Legislature’s Republican hyper-majority hang on to their seats through the upcoming series of county and state conventions that begin this weekend. That process demands occasional offers of tribute to the party’s extreme right, such as HB11, sacrificing the hopes of a small minority of human beings on the altar of political showmanship.
Something most Utah Republicans do care about is business. And before they vote to give HB11 its final approval they might stop to consider the potential loss of commerce it might cause, including next year’s NBA All-Star Game, maybe even future Olympic Games.
Wilson and Adams are pretty good at counting votes. If they think they have the support they need to override the governor’s veto of HB11, they probably do.
But there is still some small chance, if enough of Utah’s kind and open-hearted people, give their elected representatives a piece of their mind between now and Friday afternoon, that Cox’s veto might stand.