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Gov. Cox signals he won’t sign bill barring transgender girls from female sports without some changes

Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at a COVID-19 briefing at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021.

SALT LAKE CITY — Despite its passage through the Utah House of Representatives, a controversial bill that would bar transgender girls from playing in female sports may not make its way into law without some changes. Gov. Spencer Cox, who is the last stop in a bill’s journey to becoming law, said Thursday he would not sign the legislation as-is. 

Instead, it needs some changes before he grants approval. 

“I’m not in a place yet where I’m comfortable with the bill as it stands right now,” Cox said during his monthly news conference with PBS Utah. “Those discussions are ongoing. We still have a lot of work to do.”

Utah bill would bar transgender girls from female sports

HB302, which passed through the House Wednesday, would require schools to label athletic activities in one of three ways: “male” or “boys”; “female” or “girls”; or as “coed” or “mixed.” Participation would be based on “the biological, physical condition of being male or female, determined by an individual’s genetics and anatomy at birth.” 

Schools that choose not to comply could be faced with legal consequences, according to the legislation. This prompted concerns among some legal experts, arguing the law would not be upheld in the Supreme Court. 

Opponents argue the bill would further isolate LGBTQ+ youth in Utah, who may already feel discriminated against in the more conservative state. Cox agreed, offering an emotional response to the legislation during the PBS Utah conference. 

“These kids are … they’re just trying to stay alive,” Cox said, tearing up. “There’s a reason none of them are playing sports … I just think there’s a better way. And I hope that there will be enough grace in our state to find a better solution.”

Gov. Cox offers support after years of evolving views

The governor’s reaction comes after years of evolving views on LGBTQ issues. 

After the deadly shooting at an Orlando nightclub in 2016, Cox gave a speech urging acceptance of those who are of different identities. He acknowledged he hasn’t always been accepting, recalling memories from his childhood where he bullied classmates he later found out were gay. 

“I regret not treating them with the kindness, dignity and respect, the love that they deserved,” Cox said in his 2016 speech. “For that, I sincerely and humbly apologize.”

Cox reflected on this speech years later during his campaign for governor last summer, noting the state had made much progress. However, he acknowledged Republicans “haven’t done a great job of being inclusive and broadening the tent but some of us are trying really hard.”

HB302, titled “Preserving Sports for Female Students,” is among the most controversial bills making its way through the Utah Legislature this session. 

After a heated debate Wednesday, the bill passed the House and is on its way to the Senate for consideration.