Utah’s law states that “a student of the male sex may not compete, and a public school or (Local Education Agency) may not allow a student of the male sex to compete, with a team designated for students of the female sex in an interscholastic athletic activity. ” It defines “sex” as “the biological, physical condition of being male or female, determined by an individual’s genetics and anatomy at birth.”
While sex is a category that broadly refers to physiology, a person’s gender is an innate sense of identity. The factors that go into determining the sex listed on a birth certificate may include anatomy, genetics and hormones, and there is broad natural variation in each of these categories. For this reason, critics have said the language of “biological sex,” as used in this legislation, is overly simplistic and misleading.
“We must work to preserve the integrity of women’s sports and ensure it remains fair and safe for all,” Utah Senate President Stuart Adams, a Republican, said in a statement earlier this week. “We have been listening to our constituents, talking with experts, and we feel it’s important to make decisions now that protect athletes and ensure women are not edged out of their sport.”
The law is set to go into effect in July.
Law underwent ‘last minute’ overhaul
In vetoing the bill on Tuesday, Cox said the legislation around the issue that he had previously expressed support for underwent “major overhauls proposed at the last minute” that created the “complete ban” now on the books.
“It is important to note that a complete ban was never discussed, never contemplated, never debated, and never received any public input prior to the Legislature passing the bill on the 45th and final night of the session,” he said.
HB 11 stipulates that if a court ever strikes down the ban, the ruling would trigger the creation of a commission that would “establish a baseline range of physical characteristics for students participating in a specific gender-designated activity at a specific age to provide the context for the evaluation of an individual student’s eligibility for a given gender-designated interscholastic activity. “
The commission would look at cases on an individual basis to determine a trans student’s eligibility to compete. In making a determination, the commission’s members would consider whether the student might “present a substantial safety risk to the student or others that is significantly greater than the inherent risks of the given activity” or would “likely give the student a material competitive advantage when compared to students of the same age competing in the relevant gender-designated activity, including consideration of the student’s previous history of participation in gender-designated interscholastic activities. “
In a notable departure from how other GOP governors have discussed the issue, Cox proved a compassionate voice on the issue when he explained to lawmakers why he vetoed HB 11. He stressed in a letter to the leaders of the state’s Republican-led legislature that only four of the 75,000 high school athletes in his state are transgender.
“Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few. I do not understand what they are going through or why they feel the way they do. But I want them to live,” he wrote, noting that studies have shown that the high rates of suicide among trans students can be reduced when they’re shown “even a little acceptance and connection.”
On Monday, Indiana Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb also vetoed an anti-trans sports ban in his state, with him arguing that it was too broadly written and that he found “no evidence” that the problem his state’s bill sought to fix existed.
This story has been updated with additional background information.
CNN’s Hannah Sarisohn contributed to this report.