Governor: Spending time with trans kids ‘changes your heart’; transgender bill stalls in Utah senate

FILE - Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at a news conference in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021 (Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune).

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah’s conservative Republican governor choked up Thursday as he spoke about the struggles faced by transgender teenagers, though he didn’t commit to vetoing a bill that would ban them from girls’ sports.

Gov. Spencer Cox sought middle ground on a polarizing issue that is coming up in statehouses around the U.S., saying he wouldn’t sign the current version of the proposal but there are “real, valid, serious concerns” among supporters who say transgender athletes can have an advantage in women’s sports.

Cox became emotional during a televised news conference on PBS-Utah as he talked about the difficulties faced by transgender teenagers.

These kids. They’re just trying to stay alive,” he said. “When you spend time with these kids, it changes your heart in important ways.”

Cox has been known for his compassionate stances toward LGBTQ people, though he’s navigating the issue for the first time as governor and facing a bill supported by people like the influential speaker of the House. Discussions are ongoing, he said.

Utah is one of more than 20 states where similar bills have been introduced. The bills have also advanced in states like Mississippi, North Dakota Montana and Tennessee .

Its Utah sponsor, Republican Rep. Kera Birkeland, has said it would ensure fairness by making sure female athletes aren’t competing against those identified as male at birth. She has not detailed any cases of openly transgender athletes playing school sports in Utah.

Opponents, though, say the bill would discriminate against kids who are already marginalized and if passed could expose the state to lost revenue, as when North Carolina passed the so-called “bathroom bill” in 2016. It also runs counter to Democratic President Joe Biden’s executive order prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity in school sports.

Cox also said Thursday he has “threatened to veto” a second bill restricting gender-confirming medical care for transgender youth in Utah, though he also suggested common ground could be found there.

The proposed law restricting medical care for transgender teenagers stalled at the Utah Legislature on Friday after Republican Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said he threatened to veto the proposal.

The measure would have blocked doctors from prescribing medications like hormones and puberty blockers as well as surgical interventions for transgender children. The treatments would be considered “unprofessional conduct” under the legislation.

In a heated committee hearing, lawmakers voted to send the bill back to the Rules Committee which stalls the bill from moving forward.

Several doctors and medical professionals who testified were strongly opposed to the bill and said legislators shouldn’t be able to dictate what care a patient can receive.

Supporters of the bill said the legislation isn’t intended to harm transgender individuals but to protect children.

Cox said Thursday that he believes the state should use caution in considering making laws that enter private family medical decisions. He said he had “threatened to veto” one version of the bill, though he suggested unspecified changes could make the proposal more palatable. He also expressed sympathy for transgender kids, becoming emotional as he described the struggles they go through navigating their identities.

Several other states are considering similar measures this year.

Utah is also one of a number of states considering banning transgender teenagers from girls’ sports. Supporters say that would be more fair for women, but opponents argue it discriminates against an already marginalized group.

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  • Geoff VonG February 19, 2021 at 2:27 pm Reply


  • Dean February 19, 2021 at 8:15 pm Reply

    What is so difficult about this? You already have boys competing against boys and girls competing against girls in separate categories. Just establish the transgenders category, where transgenders compete against other transgenders. If at all the meets, there is only a few transgenders then there will be plenty of awards to go around for the transgender category.

    Solution, for peace and harmony. And divide the male locker room in 2 with tarps, for the transgenders, until the additional locker rooms are build for transgenders.

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