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Utah GOP Gov. Cox raises concerns about bill banning transgender youths from school sports

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Utah’s conservative Republican Gov. Spencer Cox pushed back against state legislation Thursday that would regulate transgender youths in scholastic sports and at their doctors’ offices.

HB 302, which would ban transgender athletes from competing in school sports, passed in the state House in a 50-23 vote earlier this week and will be taken up by the state Senate.

“It’s very important to me that we have an even playing field for our women,” the bill’s Republican sponsor, Rep. Kera Birkeland, said in a Facebook Live video addressing the impact transgender athletes have on high school sports in other states.

FILE - In this Jan. 8, 2021, file photo, Utah Gov. Spencer J. Cox speaks during a briefing at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City. Cox said Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, that he wouldn't yet be comfortable with signing the current version of a bill that would ban transgender girls from female sports, though he's continuing conversations with the sponsors. (Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News, via AP, Pool, File)

FILE – In this Jan. 8, 2021, file photo, Utah Gov. Spencer J. Cox speaks during a briefing at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City. Cox said Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, that he wouldn’t yet be comfortable with signing the current version of a bill that would ban transgender girls from female sports, though he’s continuing conversations with the sponsors. (Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News, via AP, Pool, File)
(AP)

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But Cox said he was hoping for a better solution than an outright ban and would meet with Birkeland, who has also served as a high school basketball and football referee.

“I think there’s still much that we can do to protect women’s sports and also, to send a message to trans kids that there’s a place for them, and that they belong,” he said during a televised news conference Thursday. “And that’s really important to me that they know that.”

Then he appeared to choke up at the podium.

“These kids are — they’re just trying to stay alive,” he said. “There’s a reason none of them are playing sports and…I just think there’s a better way. And I hope that there will be enough grace in our state to find a better solution.”

Another bill, HB 92, Cox has already threatened to veto. That bill would bar doctors from prescribing puberty-blocking drugs and from performing gender reassignment surgery on minors.

“We have to be really, really careful anytime government gets in between doctors, families, and patients,” he said.

That bill hit a snag Friday morning anyway in the state House Health and Human Services Committee and failed to garner the panel’s support.

Cox’s opposition to it earned him praise from LGBT rights groups.

“Thank you @GovCox for sending a message of love and hope out to these kiddos,” the advocacy group Equality Utah tweeted Thursday. “It’s been a rough week.”

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Last week, Cox received widespread praise from conservatives after signing legislation that made Utah the latest state to legalize the permitless concealed carry of firearms.

Anyone over the age of 21 and otherwise lawfully capable of possessing a firearm in the state can concealed carry in May. Residents who want to obtain a permit for the purpose of reciprocity with other states can still get one.

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