UT Gov Spencer Cox Takes Radical Position That Trans Kids Are Human And Adults Shouldn't Bash Them

UT Gov Spencer Cox Takes Radical Position That Trans Kids Are Human And Adults Shouldn't Bash Them
Photo Courtesy Office of the Governor

“We care about you. We love you. It’s going to be OK."

Because we've become inured to toxic levels of hatred and demagoguery, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox treating transgender kids like human beings is almost as jarring as the fact that he just vetoed his party's anti-trans athletic bill.

This year Texas sicced Child Protective Services on parents for "abusing" their kids with medically approved care, and states are racing to allow parents to sue schools for "harming" their cisgender kids by making them play peewee soccer next to trans kids. So it's actually shocking to see a politician say out loud that we are adults and it is our job to protect all children, not score cheap political points by kicking the most vulnerable ones.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is a cruel fucking country.

Gov. Cox detailed his reasons for vetoing HB11 in a long, moving letter in which he pointed out that the imaginary "problem" of transgender students participating in sports is dwarfed by the reality of high rates of suicidality in children who are stigmatized and marginalized, often by the very adults who are supposed to be taking care of them.

"I always try to err on the side of kindness, mercy and compassion," Cox said, while acknowledging the limits of his understanding of the science and psychology of transgenderism.

"I am learning so much from our transgender community. They are great kids who face enormous struggles. Here are the numbers that have most impacted my decision: 75,000, 4, 1, 86 and 56," he wrote, referring to the total number of high school students playing sports in Utah; the total number of trans kids in that group; the single transgender girl participating on a girls' team; the percentage of trans kids who have reported suicidality; and the percent who have actually attempted suicide.

Four kids and only one of them playing girls sports. That’s what all of this is about. 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. Four kids trying to get through each day. Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few. I don’t understand what they are going through or why they feel the way they do. But I want them to live. And all the research shows that even a little acceptance and connection can reduce suicidality significantly. For that reason, as much as any other, I have taken this action in the hope that we can continue to work together and find a better way. 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 is the second governor in two days to veto such a bill. But Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb referred only to the threat of expensive litigation — he didn't say a single word about the responsibility of adults, particularly those in power, to care for all children in our community, much less point out the harm that state-sanctioned stigma does to trans kids in the name of "protecting" girls sports from an imagined takeover by boys "pretending" to be girls.

In his letter, Cox also referred to the threat of litigation, which was exacerbated by the hasty, unconsidered manner of the bill's passage. Utah legislators had been negotiating for weeks to establish a commission of experts to adjudicate cases of transgender kids looking to join sports teams which match their gender identity, allowing them to "find a sense of connection and community," and only barring participation "in the rare circumstance of an outlier who could pose a safety threat or dominate a sport in a way that would eliminate competitive opportunities for biological females."

But at the eleventh hour, Republicans ditched the agreed framework, barring transgender girls from playing on girls' teams, and only establishing the commission if the ban is struck down by a court. But because indemnifying schools and the Utah High School Athletic Association (UHSAA) would have had a budgetary impact, they didn't do it. So now, as Cox points out, Republican legislators have invited parents to sue, virtually guaranteeing that UHSAA and several school districts will be bankrupted having to defend themselves, with the likely result that they wind up with the same commission everyone agreed to in the first place. But the state will have the added "benefit" of looking like a bunch of trans-bashing bigots along the way, at a moment when it's trying to attract tech companies to relocate to Utah.

Gov. Cox knows that Republicans are going to override his veto and is already vowing to call a special session so as to mitigate the chaos by indemnifying schools and UHSAA — which explicitly did not support this policy — for the lawsuits that the Republican legislature just wished upon them. And he knows that he'll be primaried from the right on this issue in 2024, but he did it anyway, because he knew it was important to send a message to trans kids that they are loved and they belong.

And as a parent of a girl who plays high school sports, I would also like to add that they are, and they do. It's going to be shit for a minute, but it will be okay.

[NYT / Cox Letter]

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Liz Dye

Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.


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