SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah’s Republican lawmakers were preparing for a push Friday to override Gov. Spencer Cox’s veto of laws banning transgender youth athletes from playing on girls’ teams, a move coming amid a nationwide culture war over transgender issues.
Cox this week became the second GOP governor to override the state legislature over a sports ban, and his veto letter caught national attention with a poignant argument that such legislation targets vulnerable children who already have high rates of suicide attempts . Business leaders are sounding the alarm that this could have multimillion-dollar economic ramifications for the state, including the potential loss of the NBA All-Star Game in less than a year.
But they have support from a vocal conservative base that is particularly influential in Utah’s now-developing elementary school era. Eleven other states have enacted similar bans, and Arizona lawmakers voted to join them on Thursday.
Leaders in the deeply conservative legislature say they must pass the Women’s Sports Protection Act. They argue that transgender athletes have a physical advantage and could eventually dominate the field and change the nature of women’s sport.
Utah has only one transgender girl who plays in K-12 sports who would be affected by the ban. There were no allegations that any of Utah’s four transgender youth athletes had a competitive advantage.
The Utah Jazz’s owner, tech entrepreneur Ryan Smith, tweeted against the law, saying it was “hasty, flawed and will not last forever.” I’m confident we can find a better way.”
The team is also partially owned by NBA all-star Dwyane Wade, who has a transgender daughter.
Salt Lake City is scheduled to host the February 2023 NBA All-Star Game. League spokesman Mike Bass said the league was “working closely” with Jazz on the matter.
The group Visit Salt Lake, which hosts conferences, shows and events, said lifting it could cost the state $50 million in lost revenue. Utah-based DNA testing genealogy giant Ancestry.com also urged the Legislature to find another way.
Hundreds of people gathered at the state Capitol on Thursday to urge lawmakers not to override the veto.
Utah has historically been one of the most conservative states in the nation. But an influx of new residents and tech companies, coupled with the growing influence of the tourism industry, often sets the stage for heated debates about social issues in the state that is home to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Friday’s deliberations follow more than a year of debates and negotiations between social conservatives and LGBTQ advocates. Republican sponsor Rep. Kera Birkeland worked with Cox and civil rights activists at Equality Utah before introducing legislation that would require transgender athletic students to go before a government-appointed commission.
Though formulated as a compromise, the proposal failed to gain traction on either side. LGBTQ advocates have criticized Republican politicians’ appointments of commissioners and judging criteria, which included body measurements such as hip-to-knee ratio.
Then, in the final hours before the legislature was due to adjourn earlier this month, GOP lawmakers replaced the legislation with a blanket ban.
The measure did not initially pass with veto-proof majorities, but its supporters say they have since swayed enough Republican lawmakers to ensure repeal.
Lawmakers expect court challenges similar to blocked bans in Idaho and West Virginia. Utah’s policy would revert to the commission if courts stop the ban.
The looming threat of a lawsuit worries school districts and the Utah High School Athletic Association, which has said it lacks the resources to defend the policy in court. On Friday, lawmakers are expected to amend the bill to allow state funds to cover attorneys’ fees.