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Indiana lawmakers override GOP governor’s veto to enact anti-trans sports ban

Indiana’s House of Representatives voted to override Gov. Eric Holcomb’s veto of HEA 1041 by a vote of 67-28. The state’s Senate later voted to override the veto by a vote of 32-15.
The votes underscore the strong desire by Republicans to push anti-transgender laws, especially ones targeting trans youth. When he vetoed the measure in March, Holcomb, in comments that marked a notable departure from how other GOP governors have discussed the issue, stressed in a letter to lawmakers that “after thorough review,” he found “no evidence” that the problem his state’s bill sought to fix existed.
The governor said HEA 1041 was too broadly written, specifically cited concerns about how the legislation would be applied consistently across the state and, like Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, who vetoed a similar ban around the same time, noted the lawsuits challenging similar laws across the country. Utah lawmakers later overrode their governor’s veto.

The debate over the inclusion of transgender athletes, particularly women and girls, has become a political flashpoint, especially among conservatives. In pushing such measures, conservatives have argued that transgender women and girls have physical advantages ​over cisgender women and girls in sports, though a 2017 report found “no direct or consistent research” on any such advantage.

Indiana’s legislation states that “a male, based on a student’s biological sex at birth in accordance with the student’s genetics and reproductive biology, may not participate on an athletic team or sport designated under this section as being a female, women’s, or girls’ athletic team or sport.” The bill applies to public schools in the state, as well as private schools whose teams compete against public school teams.

The law also protects schools and athletic associations from liability for enforcing the legislation and allows students who claim they’ve been harmed from a violation of the law to bring civil action against a school.

While sex is a category that refers broadly to physiology, a person’s gender is an innate sense of identity. The factors that go into determining the sex listed on a birth certificate may include anatomy, genetics and hormones, and there is broad natural variation in each of these categories. For this reason, critics have said the language of “biological sex,” as used in this legislation, is overly simplistic and misleading.

So far this year, a number of other GOP-led states have enacted such bans, including Arizona, Iowa, Oklahoma and South Dakota. Last year, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Montana, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia enacted similar sports bans, infuriating LGBTQ advocates, who argue that conservatives are creating an issue where there isn’t one.

When Holcomb vetoed HEA 1041 earlier this year, he appeared to refer to the limited legal success opponents have had in fighting the measures, including last year when a federal judge temporarily blocked West Virginia’s enforcement of its ban after advocates sued the state, with the judge saying he had “been provided with scant evidence that this law addresses any problem at all, let alone an important problem.” And in 2020, a federal judge blocked Idaho’s enforcement of its sports ban.

LGBTQ advocates criticized Indiana’s legislature for overriding the veto to enact the ban, with the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth, saying the lawmakers are “pushing these marginalized youth even further to the sidelines.”

“This bill claimed to solve a problem of ‘fairness’ in school sports in Indiana that didn’t exist, but its negative impacts on the mental health and well-being of trans and nonbinary youth — young people who already face disproportionate rates of bullying, depression, and suicide — are very real,” said Sam Ames, the group’s director of advocacy and government affairs, in a statement.

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