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Utah bans transgender girls from competing on girls sports teams

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, HOST:

Utah's the latest state to ban transgender girls from competing on girls' sports teams. The state legislature there just overrode a veto from Governor Spencer Cox. Emily Means of member station KUER reports from Salt Lake City.

EMILY MEANS, BYLINE: Governor Cox explained his veto in a letter, saying while there are 75,000 kids participating in high school sports in Utah, only one was an openly transgender girl. He also took issue with the process. The bill was introduced and passed on the last night of the regular legislative session without any public input. Cox wrote, more importantly, though, was the impact the bill could have on trans kids' mental health. During the veto override session, the bill's sponsor, Republican Representative Kera Birkeland, pushed back against claims that lawmakers don't care about trans students.

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KERA BIRKELAND: And I truly believe that what we have before us is a bill that says we will preserve and protect the integrity of women's sports. And we will work as a group and work as a state to improve and bring new opportunities and better opportunities to transgender youth.

MEANS: The override passed both the House and Senate, mostly along party lines. Republican Senator Daniel Thatcher voted against the original bill and the veto override. As he cast his vote, he delivered an impassioned speech explaining his position.

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DANIEL THATCHER: We want to protect our girls. But I think this bill hurts our girls. I think it hurts our girls. I think it hurts the trans community. I think it violates our oath to the Constitution. And I think it wastes money.

MEANS: LGBTQ advocates oppose the bill. Candice Metzler is with the group Transgender Education Advocates of Utah. She says trans students already have a hard enough time with bullying, and this bill makes it worse.

CANDICE METZLER: It is going to have a cascading effect on these trans students in terms of their sense of safety in schools. And I don't know how else you would expect anything otherwise from, you know, pulling out all the stops to really pass this legislation - does not send a message of love.

MEANS: The legislature later amended the bill to say the state is responsible for legal costs related to expected court challenges, rather than individual schools and school districts. Utah is the 12th state to ban transgender students from competing in school sports. For NPR News, I'm Emily Means in Salt Lake City.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.