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Gov. Gordon lets 'draconian' anti-trans sports bill pass into law

A pair of blue, pink and white striped flags wave in the wind.
Robyn Beck
AFP via Getty Images
The new law will ban transgender women and girls from participation on interscholastic sports teams. Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon said the law is likely to make trans children feel excluded and inspire lawsuits against the state, but let the bill become law.

Transgender women and girls will no longer be allowed to compete in female-designated high school sports in the state of Wyoming, once a new law takes effect in July.

On Friday, March 17, Gov. Mark Gordon announced he is allowing the law to go into effect without his signature. Gordon declined to veto the bill, despite writing a letter to Wyoming Secretary of State Chuck Gray outlining how the bill is prejudiced, might lead to higher rates of teen suicide, and will likely invite lawsuits.

"While I support and agree with the overall goal of fairness in competitive female sports, I am concerned that the ban included in this legislation is overly draconian, is discriminatory without attention to individual circumstances or mitigating factors, and pays little attention to fundamental principles of equality," Gordon wrote in the letter to Gray.

The law will ban trans girls and women from joining female-designated sports teams from seventh grade upward. The law does not ban trans boys and men from any sports.

Sponsor Senator Wendy Schuler (R-Evanston) has said the bill is about fairness.

"And so fairness goes out the window if they're allowed to compete against females in the female lane," she told the House Education Committee as it considered the bill last month.

In his letter, the governor wrote there are no easy solutions to the complex questions raised by the participation of trans athletes. Gordon wrote that he empathizes both with cisgender athletes concerned about fair competition and with transgender students who are explicitly targeted by this law.

"While I freely acknowledge the intent of this legislation is well-meaning as a way to protect the integrity and fairness of women's sports in our state, by enacting an outright ban on transgender individuals participating in team sports I believe Wyoming sends a harmful message that these individuals and their families do not deserve the same opportunities as others," Gordon writes.

The governor notes there are only four known transgender student athletes among the 91,000 K-12 students in the state and argues government intervention on this issue is unnecessary. He also notes the Wyoming High School Activities Association already has a policy and process for handling these issues on a case-by-case basis that has worked for nearly a decade.

"If we are creating policy for a problem that does not exist, my hope is we can be more thoughtful when it comes to our students," Gordon wrote.

Research shows trans youth are at a higher risk for depression and suicide and that risk is worse in places where they are not accepted or where there are laws in place targeting them.

Gordon acknowledged this in his letter.

"It is important to note that transgender youth face significant challenges in their daily lives, including high rates of bullying, discrimination and suicide," he wrote. "Wyoming continues to lead the nation in suicide rates, and I am concerned that by enacting a ban we may be pushing these students farther down this road rather than finding ways to support them. It is well known that participating in team sports can foster a sense of belonging, potentially averting ostracization and depression."

The governor had three options when this bill landed on his desk. His other options included signing the bill into law, which would have signaled stronger support for the concept, or vetoing it outright, which would have signaled stronger opposition. But he chose the middle ground option, letting the law go into effect without his signature.

In his letter, he said he would not sign the bill into law because he expects that this new law will inspire lawsuits. Gordon even outlined the various legal rationales litigants might cite in those lawsuits.

According to the governor, Wyoming might be sued for violating individuals' civil rights under 42 USC §
1983, or for violating the gender equality protections outlined by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, or simply for violating the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

"Understanding the political reality that will prolong these very divisive debates, I am willing to let this pass into law without the benefit of my signature," Gordon wrote. "I reiterate my belief that hate and discrimination have no place in Wyoming. As we move forward over the next couple of years, I urge the Legislature to carefully consider policies that promote inclusion and equality for all individuals."

The law will be no less of law without the governor's signature. It will go into effect this summer.

Jeff is a part-time reporter for Wyoming Public Media, as well as the owner and editor of the Laramie Reporter, a free online news source providing in-depth and investigative coverage of local events and trends.
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