FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky’s Democratic governor on Wednesday vetoed a bill that would bar transgender girls and women from participating in school sports matching their gender identity from sixth grade through college.
In his veto message, Gov. Andy Beshear said the Republican-backed measure “most likely” violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection rights because it “discriminates against transgender children seeking to participate in girls’ or women’s sports.”
The state’s GOP-dominated legislature will have a chance to override the veto when lawmakers reconvene April 13 for the last two days of this year’s session. The transgender bill sparked emotional debate at times but cleared both chambers with support from large majorities.
Republican-led states increasingly have adopted such prohibitions on transgender girls or women, though the culture war-related bans have been challenged in several states as violations of federal law. Beshear noted that similar measures drew vetoes from Republican governors.
Under the Kentucky bill, a student’s gender would be determined by the “biological sex” indicated on the student’s original birth certificate issued at the time of birth.
Republican Sen. Robby Mills, the bill’s lead sponsor, has said the measure would ensure girls and women compete against other “biological females.”
In vetoing the measure, Beshear said its backers had failed to present a “single instance” in Kentucky of someone gaining a competitive advantage as a result of a ”sex reassignment.”
“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,” the governor wrote.
Mills has said the bill reflects concerns from parents across the Bluegrass State. He said it “thinks ahead” to prevent situations where girls or women are unfairly competing against biological males.
“It would be crushing for a young lady to train her whole career to have it end up competing against a biological male in the state tournament or state finals,” Mills said during a debate on the bill.
The governor’s veto was hailed by the Fairness Campaign, a Kentucky-based LGBTQ advocacy organization. The group’s executive director, Chris Hartman, called it a “harmful piece of legislation that would deprive transgender girls and young women of the opportunity to grow and learn from being on a team, simply because of who they are.”
“From the start, this bill has been more about fear than fairness,” Hartman added.
David Walls, executive director of The Family Foundation, which supports the measure, said the governor sided “with his woke political base” in vetoing the bill.
“Biology matters, especially in sports, and we look forward to the General Assembly overriding Beshear’s tone-deaf veto so that women’s sports in Kentucky can be protected,” Walls said.
During a committee hearing, lawmakers heard firsthand accounts from a young transgender girl about how important playing for a middle school field hockey is in her life. Fischer Wells talked about the friends she had made and how much fun she had being part of the team.
“It’s disgusting that this bill is even suggested,” she said. “It’s terrible. And I worked really hard and practiced so many hours.”
The Kentucky legislation is Senate Bill 83.