Bucking Republican trend, Indiana governor vetoes transgender sports law

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb on Monday vetoed a bill that would have banned transgender girls from competing in school-sanctioned girls’ sports, taking a sharply different approach to the issue than 11 other Republican governors who have signed similar measures in recent years. .

Mr. Holcomb said the bill, known as HEA 1041, would likely have been challenged in court. He also questioned whether it solves an urgent problem, writing in a letter to lawmakers that “the presumption of the policy set out in HEA 1041 is that there is an existing problem in K-12 sport in Indiana, which requires further government intervention. “

“This means that the objectives of consistency and fairness in competitive women’s sport are not currently being met,” the governor added in his letter. “After thorough review, I find no evidence to support any of the allegations, although I do support the overall goal.”

The participation of transgender girls and women in sports has become an increasingly divisive issue among political leaders and sports sanctions groups, who have struggled with the issue in a way that respects transgender athletes and addresses concerns raised by some critics. on competitive fairness. Last week, Lia Thomas, a member of the University of Pennsylvania’s women’s swimming team, became the first overtly transgender woman to win an NCAA swim title.

Since 2019, state legislators across the country have introduced dozens of bills that would ban transgender youth from participating in school sports on teams that match their identities, according to the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT advocacy group.

In October, Texas became the most populous state to prevent transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports in public schools. Republican governors have signed similar measures in law in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.

The bill in Indiana, where the Republican-controlled Legislature passed it by comfortable margins, was applauded by some conservatives in the state. After its passage, the state’s Republican Attorney General, Todd Rokita, called it “an important step in the protection of youth sports.”

“We welcome the opportunity to defend this law if it is challenged in court,” he said. Rokita.

Democrats and transgender activists have largely criticized the haste with legislation as cruel and unnecessary. Some of them praised Mr. Holcomb for his veto, though they raised concerns that lawmakers in Indiana could override it.

“Governor Holcomb did the right thing tonight by vetoing a bill that would only cause problems, not solve them, by targeting Indiana’s transgender children and making them targets for exclusion and discrimination in their own schools,” Cathryn Oakley said , the State Legislative Director. and senior adviser on the human rights campaign.

Ms. Oakley warned that “transgender students in Indiana are not out of the woods yet.” With a majority vote in both Parliament and the Senate, lawmakers could override Mr. Holcomb, a governor in the second term, who is excluded by time limits from re-election in 2024. The bill was passed by a significant majority in both chambers.

Mr. Holcomb came to power in Indiana in the months following the then government. Mike Pence signed a so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” in 2015.

This law was presented as a way to protect religious business owners from having to provide cakes and flowers for same-sex weddings, but it sparked fierce opposition, including from some of India’s most prominent companies. It was quickly rewritten to explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Mr. Holcomb, as Mr. Pence appointed as lieutenant governor after the setback to the Religious Freedom Act, stepped in as the Republican candidate for governor in 2016, after Mr. Pence was elected as Donald J. Trump’s deputy.

During his time as governor, Mr. Holcomb embraced many conservative policies, including a measure he signed Monday that allows people in Indiana to carry small arms without permission. But he has sometimes taken a more moderate stance than other Republicans and has frustrated some conservatives with virus restrictions in the early stages of the pandemic.

Across the country, many Republicans have adopted laws restricting transgender sports participation, but Mr Holcomb is not alone in his party in rejecting such measures.

Governor Doug Burgum of North Dakota, a Republican, vetoed a similar bill a year ago. And in Utah, Gov. Spencer Cox, also a Republican, is expected to veto a bill that would have barred young transgender athletes from participating in girls’ sports.

Mr. Cox said he had been blinded on March 4 by state lawmakers in his own party when they approved a last-minute version of the bill and bypassed negotiations with Democrats and proponents of transgender rights who had spent weeks working on a compromise.

After the legislators approved the legislation, Mr. Cox addressed the transgender community at a news conference, saying, “We care about you. We love you. It should work. We need to get through this together.”

Julie Bosman contributed with reporting.

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