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Wyoming governor calls trans athlete ban bill 'draconian' and then allows it to pass

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon delivers his State of the State address to the Wyoming Legislature on Feb. 14, 2022, in Cheyenne, Wyo.
Rhianna Gelhart
/
AP
Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon delivers his State of the State address to the Wyoming Legislature on Feb. 14, 2022, in Cheyenne, Wyo.

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Wyoming has become the 19th state to ban transgender athletes from playing on girls or women's sports teams after the Republican governor opted not to veto the legislation.

Gov. Mark Gordon allowed the bill to become law without his signature Friday, saying he supports and agrees with the overall goal of fairness in competitive female sports. But he also said in a decision letter that the ban "is overly draconian, is discriminatory without attention to individual circumstances or mitigating factors, and pays little attention to fundamental principles of equality."

The law, which takes effect July 1, will prohibit "students of the male sex from competing on a team designated for students of the female sex." It's among dozens of Republican proposals pushing back against transgender rights in statehouses across the U.S., including measures to ban gender-affirming care for minors, restrict drag shows, and prevent transgender people from using restrooms, locker rooms and other facilities associated with their gender identities.

Antonio Serrano, advocacy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Wyoming, said the latest development was shameful because it codifies discrimination.

"It's about erasing and excluding trans people from participation in all aspects of public life," he said. "Inclusive teams that support all athletes and encourage participation should be the standard for all school sports."

The ACLU statement said the new law is unconstitutional and violates the Civil Rights Act, but the group has not indicated if it plans to file a lawsuit. Meanwhile, Sara Burlingame, director of Wyoming Equality, the state's largest LGBTQ advocacy organization, told the Casper Star-Tribune that a lawsuit is planned and the group has contacted local and national groups interested in joining it.

The bill stipulates that if the law is suspended because of a suit, a five-member school activity commission will determine on an individual basis if transgender students are eligible to compete in gender-designated sports that don't correspond to their birth-assigned sex.

The law applies to public school students in grades 7 through 12 who participate in interscholastic sports. Gordon noted in his decision letter that there are only four known transgender students competing in school athletics in the state.

"This seems to call for individualized consideration, where families, students, teams, and others can thoughtfully address specific circumstances, rather than such a punitive, ostracizing broad-brush approach," he wrote, while still allowing the bill to become law "without the benefit of my signature."

Neighboring Idaho was the first state to enact a transgender sports ban in 2020, and other states to follow suit include Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

In Kansas, Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed a proposed ban for the third year in a row, but the Republican-controlled Legislature plans to try to override her within the next few weeks.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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