Kentucky Republicans could ban transgender athletes from women’s sports despite governor’s veto

Kentucky’s Democratic Governor Andy Beshear has vetoed a bill passed by the Republican-led state legislature banning transgender student athletes from girls’ and women’s sports, arguing that it is likely unconstitutional discrimination against transgender women and girls.

Only one openly transgender student athlete plays on a school sports team in the state, according to the Kentucky LGBT+ advocacy group Fairness Campaign.

“But rather than tackle any of the state’s real issues, legislators decided to use their time and power to bully this student and others like her,” according to the group’s executive director Chris Hartman.

Republican governors in Utah and Indiana also recently vetoed similar legislation passed by their Republican-led state legislatures, and the governors of Kansas, Louisiana and North Dakota rejected similar bills last year.

A veto from Utah Governor Spencer Cox – who urged “kindness, mercy and compassion” from state legislators – was ultimately overridden by the state’s Republican-dominated legislature.

Indiana’s legislature also is expected to override Governor Eric Holcomb’s veto.

In his veto letter on 6 April, Governor Beshear said he shares the “same concerns” outlined by those governors’ veto messages, adding that “transgender children deserve public officials’ efforts to demonstrate that they are valued members of out community through compassion, kindness and empathy”.

Kentucky’s Republican-led legislature will have a chance to override his veto when it agrees on 13 April.

At least 12 states have implemented bans targeting transgender athletes from school sports.

In 2021, nine states banned transgender athletes from participating in sports that match their gender.

At least four similar bans were signed into law or passed through state legislatures in Arizona, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Utah in March 2022 alone.

Governor Beshear said the bill’s proponents failed to point out any circumstances in which a transgender athlete in the state had an unfair advantage, nor did legislators show that the state’s student athletics agency failed to apply its policy.

In his veto message on 6 April, the governor points to existing policy in the Kentucky High School Athletic Association to guide schools against discriminatory policies for transgender athletes, adding that the agency has “approached the issue of transgender sports participation with nuance, collaboration and a sense of fairness” that Senate Bill 83 ignores.

In Utah, Governor Cox said only four transgender students participate in high school sports in the state, and only one transgender student participates in women’s sports.

“Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few,” he wrote. “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.”

Governor Beshear also vetoed Senate Bill 1, which he said in a separate veto letter “represents a step backward for public education in the Commonwealth” by reviving debate over “critical race theory” in classrooms.

Additional language in the bill, added late in the legislative session, is “aimed more at politics than at history,” he said.

“Prescribing a rigid approach to what must be ‘taught’ in those discussions will lessen if not erase them,” the governor said. “For the future of our country, American children and adults must be able to exercise their First Amendment rights and have important discussions free of government censorship.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last week that the US Department of Education is “well positioned and ready to evaluate what to do next,” following statements from Secretary Miguel Cardona suggesting that measures targeting LGBT+ students could violate federal civil rights law, including Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The US Department of Justice also issued a letter to all state attorneys general last week reminding them of federal constitutional and statutory provisions that protect transgender people from discrimination.

“The Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that all children are able to live free from discrimination, abuse and harassment,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement.

The letter “reaffirms state and local officials’ obligation to ensure that their laws and policies do not undermine or harm the health and safety of children, regardless of a child’s gender identity,” she said.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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