SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Utah Governor Spencer Cox has vetoed a state bill that would ban transgender athletes from participating in school sports on Tuesday.

The vetoed bill, H.B. 11, has garnered much debate among Utah lawmakers since its initial proposal. The bill specifically prohibits “ a student of the male sex from competing against another school on a team designated for female students.”

In light of Cox’s veto, President J. Stuart Adams and Speaker Brad Wilson will call a veto override session to reconsider the ruling.

Known as the Student Eligibility in Interscholastic Activities, the bill is sponsored by Rep. Kera Birkeland and Senator Curtis S. Bramble.

Cox explained his decision for vetoing the controversial transgender ban bill on Twitter saying:

“I believe in fairness and protecting the integrity of women’s sports. Unfortunately, HB11 has several fundamental flaws which is why I’ve chosen to veto the bill. Here are my reasons why:

  • The bill was substantially changed in the final hours of the legislative session. There was no public input and this lack of time and input has serious legal and financial implications as well. I believe in process and this was a poor process. 
  • HB11 also provides no financial protection and explicitly invites a lawsuit meaning this bill will likely bankrupt the Utah High School Athletic Association and result in millions of dollars in legal fees for local school districts.
  • Last year, I was encouraged to see legislators and LGBTQ advocates work on a compromise that would protect women’s sports and allow some participation for transgendered youth. 4/
  • No other state has done this, and we hoped that Utah could be the first. Unfortunately, that compromise fell apart in the 11th hour of the session. 
  • I am not an expert on transgenderism. 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.
  • If a veto override occurs, I hope we can work to find ways to show these four kids that we love them and they have a place in our state.”

Cox had expressed plans to veto the controversial bill earlier this month. At the time, officials say without Cox on board, Utah is unlikely to join the 11 Republican-led states to recently enact bans on transgender girls hoping to compete in school sports leagues.

Officials said Cox had spent months engaged in behind-the-scenes negotiations to broker a compromise between LGBTQ advocates and social conservatives.

Senate President Adams said the following on the legislature’s plan to override Cox’s veto:

“We must work to preserve the integrity of women’s sports and ensure it remains fair and safe for all,” said President Adams. “While Gov. Cox and I disagree on this bill, I respect the legislative process. We have been listening to our constituents, talking with experts, and we feel it’s important to make decisions now that protect athletes and ensure women are not edged out of their sport. Creating a safe and fair environment for athletes takes work. We care deeply for all students, but we can not ignore the scientific facts that biological boys are built differently than girls. Doing nothing is taking a step backward for women. Finding a solution to this complicated issue is necessary to maintain fair competition now and in the future.”

Youth and student sports have increasingly become a central policy issue in Republican-majority statehouses. Before 2020, no state had enacted a law regarding transgender children participating in youth sports.

Since then, 11 states have since passed laws banning transgender girls from playing in leagues corresponding with their gender identity: AlabamaArkansasFloridaIdahoIowaMississippiMontanaSouth DakotaTennesseeTexas and West Virginia.

“We have worked for months in good faith negotiations and the legislature blindsided us,” executive director of Equality Utah Troy Williams said. 

House Speaker Brad Wilson said the bill isn’t meant to target trans athletes, it’s meant to protect women’s athletics  

“This is not directed at anyone or any specific individuals this is directed that preserving girls’ sports and their safety and competitiveness,” Wilson said. 

Williams said the bill unfairly targets trans kids.  

“The are 85,000 registered athletes in the entire state, and there are just FOUR, four registered transgender athletes.” 

But bill sponsor Kera Birkeland is fighting back, saying this is a discussion on the fundamental belief in equality.  

“This is not about a number of children this is not about a number at all this is about a fundamental belief that you either have or you don’t that women’s sports need to be preserved,” Birkeland said. 

Though she believes trans kids should be able to excel, she said women’s sports is a separate issue.   

“It should be about finding places for the transgender youth to excel and provide all still providing the opportunity for girls to excel and provide,” Birkeland said. 

Equality Utah said to protect the equality of trans kids, they are prepared to sue. 

“If we cannot seek justice through the legislature and their unwillingness to deal with complex issues we will seek justice through the courts,” Williams said. 

Cox also approved 21 other bills during Tuesday’s General Legislative Session.

The session to override Gov. Cox’s veto will take place this Friday, March 25.

On Tuesday, Cox called another Special Legislative Session to also take place this Friday to “address issues associated with the bill.”