BREAKING: Kentucky General Assembly Overrides Gov. Beshear’s Veto of Anti-Trans Sports Ban

by Henry Berg-Brousseau

The Kentucky House and Senate have overridden Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto of Senate Bill 83, an anti-trans sports ban.

Today, the Kentucky House and Senate overrode Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto of Senate Bill 83 – a bill that denies transgender students in Kentucky the opportunity to play school sports with their peers. In Governor Beshear’s letter explaining his veto, he reiterated the discriminatory intent of SB 83.

“In recent weeks, the Republican Governors of Utah and Indiana vetoed similar bills... They each mentioned the several lawsuits across the country challenging similar bills... each also noted the inability of their state legislatures to identify any existing problems with transgender children participating in their respective state's school sports. Most importantly, however, the Governor of Utah acknowledged the difficulties faced by our transgender community and the research that shows that the acceptance and connection transgender children experience through school sports can reduce suicidality significantly,” Gov. Beshear wrote in the letter. “I share the same concerns... Transgender children deserve public officials' efforts to demonstrate that they are valued members of our communities through compassion, kindness and empathy, even if not understanding.

Human Rights Campaign State Legislative Director and Senior Counsel Cathryn Oakley released the following statement:

“Governor Beshear and Governor Cox of Utah both, in their veto statements, made it clear that they approach this conversation about children with compassion, as any conversation about children should be approached with compassion. It isn’t necessary to understand what it means to be transgender in order to understand that kids want to be able to play school sports on a team where they can be included and celebrated for being who they really are. On the other hand, the Kentucky General Assembly chose to politicize these kids, to isolate them, to prevent them from being included and to prevent them from being able to play with their friends - and all without addressing the actual challenges facing women’s sports programs, like chronic underfunding.Kentucky's legislators should never forget that they are culpable for the harm that they are causing to children, who must now bear the weight of even more discrimination.
We sincerely thank Gov. Beshear for seeing the humanity of transgender youth and speaking out against this discriminatory legislation. The Human Rights Campaign condemns this action by the Kentucky General Assembly and will continue to use every tool at our disposal to fight for the rights all transgender youth and their families.”

SB 83 passage comes after a historically bad 2021 session that saw a record number of anti-transgender bills introduced and passed across the country. Caught in the crosshairs of anti-LGBTQ+ elected officials’ divisive political strategy are kids who are simply trying to navigate their adolescence — kids who face relentless targeting and increasing levels of discrimination in their community, as evidenced by the record incidents of fatal violence against transgender and gender non-binary people in 2021.

By including collegiate athletics, SB 83 runs afoul of NCAA rules, threatening Kentucky’s participation in NCAA sports and championship tournaments.

The NCAA’s recent guidance asks each sport’s national governing body to determine rules that balance fairness and inclusion. These decisions are best left to the experts in each sport alongside medical professionals.

The bill may trigger a lawsuit and federal courts have overwhelmingly ruled in favor of transgender rights in recent years.

Many federal courts have upheld LGBTQ+ rights, including numerous rulings on Title IX protections for transgender students. Idaho recently passed a law restricting transgender student-athletes, and Chief Judge David Nye of the U.S. District Court of Idaho, who was nominated by President Donald Trump and confirmed 100-0 by the U.S. Senate, ruled against it. There is also an injunction against West Virginia’s law and pending lawsuits against similar bans in Tennessee, Florida, and more.

SB 83 targets some of Kentucky’s most vulnerable kids—again.

Beginning with “Bathroom Bills” several years ago, national organizations have prioritized different versions of legislation targeting transgender youth in dozens of states. Because of the difficulties and discrimination they face, more than half of transgender youth have seriously considered suicide, according to the Trevor Project’s 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ+ Mental Health. Over two-thirds of LGBTQ+ youth said recent debates over state laws that target transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health, according to a 2022 Trevor Project poll. Legislation like SB 83 contributes to the climate of negative messages and exclusion transgender youth face.

Anti-Transgender Attacks As A Political Talking Point

Legislators in a record 34 states introduced 147 anti-transgender bills in 2021, focusing on discriminatory anti-equality measures to drive a wedge between their constituents and score short-term political points. In 2021, legislators in twelve states enacted anti-LGBTQ+ bills despite failing to provide examples of what exactly they were legislating against.

Merely introducing anti-transgender bills and peddling anti-transgender rhetoric has already had a damaging impact, leading to LGBTQ+ youth resources being surreptitiously removed from a government website, 11-year old kids literally having trouble sleeping, and a school district banning graphic novels with a transgender character after a parent's complaint. 2021 and 2020 were the deadliest and second deadliest years on record for trans & gender non-conforming people respectively, with the Human Rights Campaign tracking at least 50 violent deaths in 2021 alone. A new Trevor Project survey shows that a startling 85% of transgender or gender non-binary youth say their mental health has been negatively affected by these legislative attacks.

Anti-transgender content on social media is also a radicalizing issue all by itself– in large part due to transgender young people being among the most marginalized, voiceless, and defenseless communities in America and because right-wing arguments play on long-standing misogynistic, racist, and sexist tropes about gender roles.

Businesses, Advocacy Groups, and Athletes Oppose Anti-Trans Legislation

More than 220 major U.S. corporations have stood up and spoken out to oppose anti-transgender legislation being proposed in states across the country. Companies like Amazon, American Airlines, Apple, Airbnb, Dell, Dow, Google, IBM, Lyft, Marriott, Microsoft, Nike and Paypal have objected to anti-LGBTQ state legislation. Additionally, more than 60 major businesses, including Apple, Capital One, Google, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Meta, Microsoft, Salesforce and Unilever, signed an open letter in the Dallas Morning News condemning hateful anti-transgender attacks from Texas elected leaders. Four of the largest U.S. food companies also condemned “dangerous, discriminatory legislation that serves as an attack on LGBTQ+ individuals, particularly transgender and nonbinary people,” and the Walton Family Foundation issued a statement expressing “alarm” at the trend of anti-transgender legislation that recently became law in Arkansas.

Many are rightly protective of the legacy of women’s sports in this country, and a robust Title IX is central to that legacy. Importantly, advocates for women and girls in sports – such as the National Women’s Law Center, the Women’s Sports Foundation, Women Leaders in College Sports, and others – support trans-inclusive policies and oppose efforts to exclude transgender students from participating in sports. So do prominent female athletes including Billie Jean King, Megan Rapinoe, and Cheryl Reeve. That’s because while there are real issues facing women’s sports, including a lack of resources devoted to supporting them, transgender participation in athletics is not one of them.

The nation’s leading child health and welfare groups representing more than 7 million youth-serving professionals and more than 1,000 child welfare organizations released an open letter calling for lawmakers in states across the country to oppose dozens of bills that target LGBTQ+ people, and transgender children in particular.

Nearly 550 college athletes have stood up to anti-transgender legislation by demanding the NCAA pull championships from states that have enacted anti-trans sports laws.

Trans Equality Is Popular Across All Demographics

The reality is that however sensational and polarizing this issue may seem, public opinion polling across the country shows strong support for trans-inclusive and pro-equality policies:

Recent PRRI data shows a large majority of Americans (82%) favor laws that protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination in jobs, public accommodations, and housing, and majorities of Republicans (67%), independents (85%), and Democrats (92%) favor nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ Americans.

A PBS/NPR/Marist poll states that 67% of Americans, including 66% of Republicans, oppose the anti-transgender sports ban legislation proliferating across 30 states.

In a 10-swing-state poll conducted by the Human Rights Campaign & Hart Research Group in 2020 showed:

  • At least 60% of Trump voters across each of the ten swing states say transgender people should be able to live freely and openly.

  • At least 87% of respondents across each of the ten swing states say transgender people should have equal access to medical care, with many states breaking 90% support.

  • When respondents were asked about how they prioritized the importance of banning transgender people from participating in sports as compared to other policy issues, the issue came in dead last, with between 1% and 3% prioritizing the issue.

Another poll conducted by the Human Rights Campaign & Hart Research Group revealed that, with respect to transgender youth participation in sports, the public’s strong inclination is on the side of fairness and equality for transgender student-athletes. 73% of voters agree that “sports are important in young people’s lives. Young transgender people should be allowed opportunities to participate in a way that is safe and comfortable for them.”

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. HRC envisions a world where LGBTQ+ people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.

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