Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear on Wednesday vetoed a bill that would bar transgender girls and women from playing on women’s college and high school sports teams.
The state legislature, which is dominated by Republicans, could override the veto with a simple majority in both houses, and analysts expect lawmakers to do so when they reconvene next Wednesday. The bill had easily passed both chambers.
Mr Beshear, a Democrat, wrote in his veto that the bill “discriminates against transgender children” and therefore “most likely” violates equal protections enshrined in the US Constitution. Republican governors in Utah and Indiana recently vetoed similar legislation, and governors in Kansas, Louisiana and North Dakota did so last year.
The Utah legislature overturned the veto, becoming the 12th state to enact legislation banning young transgender athletes from participating in women’s sports. Republican lawmakers are also expected to override Indiana’s veto.
Republican sponsors and conservative activists touted Kentucky’s bill, known as the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” as a defensive measure. If it becomes law, sports teams designated for girls in grades six through ten will be “not open to male members”, based on the child’s original birth certificate.
Being transgender in America
Proponents of the bill argue that biological differences, particularly after puberty, may give transgender girls a physical advantage in sports over cisgender girls.
The Family Foundation, a Christian political organization in Kentucky, expressed disappointment with the veto. “Kentucky girls and women deserve a level playing field,” Executive Director David Walls said in a statement.
“Biology is important, especially in sport,” said Mr Walls, who accused Mr Beshear of siding with “his woke political base”.
An oft-cited 2017 report in the journal Sports Medicine, which reviewed eight research studies and 31 sports policies, found “no direct or consistent research” to suggest that transgender girls have an athletic advantage over their cisgender peers. .
The Fairness Campaign, a state-run LGBTQ rights organization, said it was aware of only one openly transgender student-athlete in Kentucky. She started her school’s field hockey team, said group executive director Chris Hartman.
“From the beginning, this bill has been more about fear than fairness,” Hartman said in a statement.
The student, Fischer Wells, testified against the bill in February. If that were to pass, she said at the time, “it means I can’t play, and it will be extremely detrimental to my mental health.”
“It’s disgusting that this bill is even being proposed,” she said at the time. “It’s terrible. And I worked very hard and practiced so many hours.
In his veto, Mr. Beshear pointed out that the bill did not feature “a single case in Kentucky of a child gaining a competitive advantage as a result of a gender reassignment.” He also noted that the Kentucky High School Athletic Association recognizes the right of transgender students to participate in interscholastic sports.
Education has become a paramount issue as the country heads towards midterm elections.
Governor Doug Ducey of Arizona and Governor Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma both signed legislation last week banning transgender women and girls from playing on girls’ teams. And Republicans have also targeted discussions of race and tried to ban divisive books.
On Wednesday, Beshear also vetoed a bill that would, among other issues, limit how teachers talk about race, racism and parts of American history in the classroom, one numerous bans on what lawmakers have called “critical.” race theory.