The Republican-dominated Indiana Legislature is poised on Tuesday to override the GOP governor’s veto of a bill banning transgender students from competing in girls sports, which would mean Indiana would join more than a dozen states that have adopted similar laws in the past two years.
The Indiana proposal won approval by wide margins in both the House and Senate before Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb in March unexpectedly vetoed the measure, saying it did not provide a consistent policy for what he called “fairness in K-12 sports.”
Opponents of Indiana’s ban have argued the bill is a bigoted response to a problem that doesn’t exist. They say they have little hope of enough lawmakers changing their votes to block the veto override, which only needs simple majorities in the House and Senate.
Republican sponsors of the bill maintain it is needed to protect the integrity of female sports and opportunities for girls to gain college athletic scholarship but pointed out no instances in the state of transgender athletes outperforming other girls.
Activists held a rally against the ban ahead of the Legislature’s scheduled Tuesday afternoon votes. Dozens of attendees, including several families with transgender youth, played sidewalk games around the Statehouse lawn. They argued that Indiana’s ban isn’t targeting elite athletes, but rather kids who want to play on a team with their friends.
“We’re here to stand against hate and discrimination that could have a lifelong impact for my family,” said Cara Nimskey, the mother of a transgender girl from Bloomington. “Sports are integral to adolescents. My daughter dreams of playing basketball in high school. It’s unfair exclusion – she’ll be crushed if this goes through.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana has said it intends to file a lawsuit against what it called “hateful legislation” in hopes of blocking it from taking effect as scheduled on July 1.
Republican Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray said the state needs the policy and called it “a matter of simple fairness.”
“We don’t like to get to the state of Indiana south, but it happens from time to time,” Bray said. “It’s a policy that I think we can stand behind.”
Holcomb’s veto came a day before Republican Utah Gov. Spencer Cox vetoed a similar ban on grounds that such laws target vulnerable children who are already at high risk of suicide. Utah’s Republican lawmakers overrode the veto days later amid a wave of such laws that political observers describe as a classic “wedge issue” to motivate conservative supporters.
In his veto letter, Holcomb pointed to the Indiana High School Athletic Association, which has a policy covering transgender students wanting to play sports that match their gender identity and has said it has had no transgender girls finalize a request to play on a female team. The law wouldn’t prevent students who identify as female or transgender males from playing on boys sports teams.
Holcomb said in his veto message the bill presumed “there is an existing problem in K-12 sports in Indiana that requires further state government intervention” but that he found no evidence to support that claim “even if I support the effort overall.”
Associated Press Writer Tom Davies contributed to this report.
Casey Smith is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.