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Kentucky governor vetoes cruel trans sports ban – but the fight isn’t over

Maggie Baska April 7, 2022
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Kentucky governor Andy Beshear addresses people off camera at an event outside

Kentucky governor Andy Beshear vetoes a bill that would have banned trans students from competing in girls' and women's sports at public and private schools. (Getty/Jon Cherry)

Kentucky Democratic governor Andy Beshear has vetoed a trans sports ban passed by lawmakers – but it still stands a chance of becoming law.

The bill that would have banned trans students from competing in women’s and girls’ sports in public and private schools in Kentucky.

In a veto letter signed Wednesday (6 April), Beshear said the guidelines regarding how trans students can participate in athletics are already covered by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association (KHSAA).

He also argued the bill, which would have impacted students from sixth grade through to college, “discriminates against transgender children” and “most likely” violated the “equal protection rights enshrined” in the US Constitution. Furthermore, Beshear questioned if the bill would even fix an existing issue in the state.

“Moreover, Senate Bill 83 bans transgender children from participating in girls’ and women’s sports without presenting a single instance in Kentucky of a child gaining a competitive advantage as a result of sex reassignment,” Beshear wrote.

“The General Assembly has not pointed out any examples of the KHSAA policy being ineffective in allowing transgender children to participate in sports while maintaining a fair competitive advantage.”

However, Beshear’s veto may be short-lived as the Republican-led state legislature could overturn the veto with a majority in both chambers. The Kentucky legislature will reconvene on 13 April for the last two days of this year’s session, the Associated Press reported.

Beshear is the third governor this year to veto an anti-trans sports ban after Republican governors in both Utah and Indiana did so in March. However, Utah lawmakers quickly overturned governor Spencer Cox’s veto and have banned trans students from competing on school sports teams that align with their gender identity.

Conservatives in the Indiana could override governor Eric Holcomb’s veto when the state legislature meets in May.

Chris Hartman, executive director of Kentucky LGBT+ advocacy group Fairness Campaign, applauded Beshear for “doing the right thing” and vetoing the “harmful” legislation.

He explained that there is “only one openly transgender girl we know playing on a school sports team” in Kentucky’s “entire school system”. Hartman said she just wanted the “opportunity to play with her friends” on her school’s field hockey team in her “eighth grade year”.

“Instead of solving Kentucky’s real problems, the politicians behind this bill have used their power to bully this student and others like her,” Hartman added. “At a previous House committee hearing of the bill, those politicians had to fly in people from out of state to give testimony in support of the bill, because few Kentuckians would.”

While it was great to see the trans sports ban vetoed, Hartman warned that the rights of trans people in Kentucky are “still in danger” as the state legislature is “expected to override the governor’s veto”. He urged lawmakers to “show compassion to transgender people in our commonwealth” by choosing not to overturn the veto.

Fischer Wells, a trans student-athlete in Kentucky, previously testified against the sports ban. She told lawmakers that she didn’t want the legislation to pass because it would be “extremely detrimental to my mental health” as playing sports is a “great way for me to cope with things”.

“It’s disgusting that this bill is even suggested,” she said. “It’s terrible, and I worked really hard and practised so many hours.”

Her mum, who also testified before lawmakers, described how Wells “lights up” when she plays field hockey. She added that Wells enjoys the variety of benefits that playing sports can provide any young person including finding new friends and learning to work in a team.

So far in 2022, Republican governors in IowaSouth DakotaOklahoma and Arizona have enacted trans sports bans.

Last year, LGBT+ advocates watched as GOP lawmakers passed similar legislation into law in ArkansasAlabamaFloridaMississippiMontanaTennesseeTexas and West Virginia.

More: anti-trans bills, Kentucky

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