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Transgender women in sport divides US Republicans

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A flag with the symbol denoting support for the transgender community is unfurled during a protest in New York City on June 28, 2019./AFP
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Mar 24, 2022 - 11:13 AM

WASHINGTON — Two Republican governors in the United States have vetoed laws banning transgender athletes from girls’ school sports, as the issue becomes increasingly heated within the party.

The governors of Indiana and Utah rejected the position taken by their own party’s lawmakers, saying the legislation was not necessary.

“The presumption of the policy… is that there is an existing problem… in Indiana that requires further state government intervention,” the conservative midwestern state’s governor Eric Holcomb said on Monday.

“It implies that the goals of consistency and fairness in competitive female sports are not currently met. After thorough review, I find no evidence to support either claim.”

Transgender participation in school sports has re-emerged as a cultural touchstone animating largely Republican politicians and voters, with a trans athlete in Pennsylvania smashing female swimming records.

Utah’s Governor Spencer Cox followed Holcomb on Tuesday, saying: “Politically, it would be much easier and better for me to simply sign the bill. I have always tried to do what I feel is the right thing regardless of the consequences.”

Cox noted that only four transgender children, including one competing with girls, were enrolled in school sports clubs in Utah this year.

Cox described them as “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.”

‘Fear and anger’ 

“Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few,” he added. “I don’t understand what they are going through or why they feel the way they do. But I want them to live.”

Cox’s appeal appears not to have moved state-level lawmakers, who are set to vote on Friday to overcome his veto.

“We must work to preserve the integrity of women’s sports and ensure it remains fair and safe for all… we can’t ignore the scientific facts that biological boys are built differently than girls,” Republican Senate President Stuart Adams said.

As authorities attempt to perform the tightrope act of balancing fairness and inclusion, several conservative states have already passed laws to ban transgender athletes who were born male from competing in girls’ sport.

But the issue is dividing Republicans, with Governor Doug Burgum having already vetoed a ban in North Dakota.

The controversy has been reignited by University of Pennsylvania transgender swimmer Lia Thomas, 22, who represented the men for three seasons before starting hormone replacement therapy in 2019.

Florida Governor Ron De Santis said Tuesday a swimmer who finished second to Thomas in the national college championships was the “real winner.”

Opponents of allowing trans swimmers to participate in women’s competition say their prior physical development as a male gives them an unfair advantage.

USA Swimming cited data in February showing that the top female athlete in 2021 would on average be ranked below 536th on male events that year.

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