Utah lawmakers on Friday voted to override Republican Gov. Spencer Cox’s veto of a bill that bans transgender youth from competing on girls sports teams, joining 11 other states, including Texas and Florida, with similar prohibitions in place.
The House, which is controlled by the GOP, voted 56–18 to override the veto. The law is slated to take effect on July 1.
In vetoing the bill, Cox cited the potential negative effects it could have on the mental health of transgender student-athletes, which he said make up all of four people across the state's schools.
"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 part of something," he wrote on Twitter. "Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few."
He added: "I don't understand what they are going through or why they feel the way they do. But I want them to live. And all the research shows that even a little acceptance and connection can reduce suicidality significantly."
After the House's override, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall tweeted, "Is this who we are as a state? I’m at a loss. This is decidedly not 'The Utah Way' and I’m ashamed at the way some of our state’s leaders are playing politics with children’s lives."
She continued: "To Utah’s transgender kids: I’m sorry this is happening to you and some of our leaders seem intent on going out of their way to persecute and punish you just for being who you are. They do not speak for all of us. You are perfect as you are. You are loved. I stand with you."
But in a statement defending the bill on Tuesday, Utah Senate President J. Stuart Adams said "biological boys are built differently than girls."
“We must work to preserve the integrity of women's sports and ensure it remains fair and safe for all,” Adams added. “While Gov. Cox and I disagree on this bill, I respect the legislative process. 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."
Rep. Kera Birkeland, who introduced the bill in January, also defended the legislation. Birkeland, who coaches high school basketball, said on the podcast Straight Talk With Kim & Carolyn that when her team plays transgender athletes, her players are "off mentally."
"The girls are like, 'Number one, we feel guilty that we're unhappy that they're here.' We've created a society where women have to hold back. We've seen this," she said. "The girls are like, 'This isn't right. It's not fair. We don't think we should have to play when it's not fair.'"
Birkeland did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a statement, Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention and mental health organization for LGBTQ youth, condemned the veto override.
“This bill focuses on a problem of ‘fairness’ in school sports that simply does not exist — but its negative impacts on the mental health and well-being of trans and nonbinary youth are very real," Ames said. "These youth already face disproportionate rates of bullying, depression, and suicide risk, and bills like this one will only make matters worse."
There have also been warnings that Utah could experience economic fallout as a result of the bill, including possibly losing out on next year's NBA All-Star Game. Utah Jazz owner expressed his opposition to the bill on Twitter, saying, "We need to love these kids."
"This bill was rushed, flawed, and won’t hold up over time," he added. "I'm hopeful we can find a better way."
The US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. The Trevor Project, which provides help and suicide-prevention resources for LGBTQ youth, is 1-866-488-7386. Find other international suicide helplines at Befrienders Worldwide (befrienders.org).