Column: In outbreak of compassion and good sense, GOP governors in Utah and Indiana veto anti-trans bills

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at a news conference in May.
(Spenser Heaps / Associated Press)

For those desperately seeking evidence that the Republican Party has not completely thrown in with its worst instincts, let us consider Utah Gov. Spencer J. Cox and Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb.

Both this week stood fast against the outbreak of merciless malevolence their fellow Republicans have unleashed against transgender children in the form of discriminatory legislation. Both did so with veto messages that substituted tolerance and good sense for the deranged cynicism of their GOP colleagues.

Start with Cox. A Mormon who became governor in 2021 after serving as lieutenant governor, Cox on Tuesday vetoed legislation that would prohibit transgender girls from participating in school sports that match their gender identities.


Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few.

— Utah Gov. Spencer J. Cox, vetoing an anti-transgender bill

Cox objected in part to the legislative process that produced the bill, the key provisions of which were “never discussed, never contemplated, never debated and never received any public input prior to the Legislature passing the bill on the 45th and final night of the session.”

But his more pointed remarks were directed at the measure’s fundamental indecency and ignorance.

“I must admit, I am not an expert on transgenderism,” he said in his veto letter to legislative leaders. “I struggle to understand so much of it and the science is conflicting. When in doubt, however, I always try to err on the side of kindness, mercy and compassion. I also try to get proximate and I am learning so much from our transgender community. They are great kids who face enormous struggles. Here are the numbers that have most impacted my decision: 75,000, 4, 1, 86 and 56.”

His reference was to 75,000 high school kids participating in high school sports in Utah, four transgender kids playing high school sports in Utah, one transgender student playing girls sports, 86% of trans youth reporting suicidality and 56% of trans youth having attempted suicide.


“Four kids and only one of them playing girls sports. That’s what all of this is about,” Cox wrote. “Four kids who aren’t dominating or winning trophies or taking scholarships. Four kids who are just trying to find some friends and feel like they are a part of something.... Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few. I don’t understand what they are going through or why they feel the way they do. But I want them to live.”

The leaders of the Republican-dominated Legislature have scheduled a vote to override the veto for Friday. They expect it to pass.

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Let’s now turn to Holcomb, who on Monday vetoed a bill, HEA 1041, that would require school sports teams to be designated male, female or coeducational, and prohibit schoolchildren from participating on a team that doesn’t conform to their “biological sex at birth.” The measure also establishes a grievance procedure and allows civil lawsuits for violations.

Holcomb didn’t offer the foursquare appeal to “kindness, mercy and compassion” like Cox, but he did draw a line against efforts to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.

“The presumption of the policy laid out in HEA 1041 is that there is an existing problem in K-12 sports in Indiana that requires further state government intervention,” Holcomb said in his veto message. “It implies that the goals of consistency and fairness in competitive female sports are not currently being met. After thorough review, I find no evidence to support either claim.”

The GOP-controlled Indiana Legislature is planning an override vote, also with the expectation it will pass.


Quite obviously, the expedient action on both governors’ parts would have been to wave these bills through. That neither did so is a mark of character that one finds all too seldom in our political leaders.

It’s proper to note that neither Cox nor Holcomb is a liberal in Republican clothing.

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Cox endorsed Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in the 2016 GOP presidential primary in Utah and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz after Rubio dropped out. He initially said he would not support Donald Trump, who he said “represents the worst of what our great country stands for.”

In 2020, however, he did support Trump, though after the Jan. 6, 2020, Capitol insurrection he said he blamed Trump for inciting the violence.

Holcomb on Monday — the same day he vetoed the transgender sports bill — signed a measure repealing a law requiring that residents obtain a permit to carry a handgun, thereby winning praise from the National Rifle Assn.

These governors’ principled actions came as their Republican colleague in the U.S. Senate were draping themselves in unremitting racism at the confirmation hearing for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Biden’s pick for the Supreme Court. More to the point, both set themselves apart from fellow Republicans bent on pandering to anti-LGBTQ+ bigotry.

As we’ve reported, this discreditable activity is sweeping red-state American politics in ever more extreme forms. Texas and Idaho, for instance, have taken steps to implement civil and criminal penalties for families trying to help their transgender children navigate the difficult transition.


The Idaho House has passed a measure that criminalizes gender-affirming therapies for children under 18, ranging from hormone and puberty-delaying treatments to surgery.

The crimes would also include arranging for such treatment out of state.

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has tried to get his state’s health authorities to investigate families with transgender children, although a Texas appeals court has temporarily blocked the investigations.

Notable among the anti-trans GOP leaders is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who last year signed a bill barring transgender students from participating in girls’ sports. As if to signify the lack of any such problem in Florida school sports, DeSantis was flanked at the bill-signing by a Connecticut resident who had sued in her state over the participation of two transgender students in her sports. The lawsuit was dismissed.

DeSantis further established his anti-trans bona fides Tuesday, signing a proclamation declaring Emma Weyant, an Olympic silver medalist swimming for the University of Virginia, the “rightful winner” of the 500-yard freestyle event at the NCAA Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships this month.

DeSantis, of course, has no authority to weigh in on the results of any NCAA event. In real life, Weyant, a Sarasota native, came in second to Lia Thomas of the University of Pennsylvania, who became the first transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I championship.