Indiana’s Republican-dominated state legislature has voted to override the GOP governor’s veto of a measure banning transgender athletes from competing in girls’ school sports, joining several other states with discriminatory bans targeting transgender young people.
Governor Eric Holcomb vetoed House Bill 1041 earlier this year, noting in his letter that he found “no evidence” to support GOP claims that the bill aims to address “fairness” in school sports and warning that the measure opens the state to costly legal battles.
State senators voted 32-15 and the state House voted 67-28 to override the governor’s veto on 24 May. The law is set to go into effect on 1 July.
The ACLU of Indiana immediately filed a lawsuit, on behalf of a 10-year-old student – named in the filing as A.M. – who plays on her school’s softball team. Under the law, she will not be allowed to participate.
“When she joined the softball team last fall, it helped her come out of her shell. I watched as she bloomed and felt more at ease in her skin,” according to a statement from her mother. “When my daughter learned about this law, she was hurt and angry. She wants to stand up for girls like her, as well as herself, because she knows how upset they are right now. She wanted me to share that ‘We can’t expect kids to say the Pledge of Allegiance and Liberty and Justice for All while not giving liberty and justice to all.’”
The lawsuit filed in US District Court alleges that blocking A.M. and other transgender girls from school sports amounts to discrimination on the basis of sex in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, a federal anti-discrimination law in education programmes.
“When misinformation about biology and gender is used to bar transgender girls from school sports it amounts to the same form of sex discrimination that has long been prohibited” under Title IX, ACLU of Indiana legal director Ken Falk said in a statement.
“Girls like A.M. simply want to access the same opportunities as their peers and denying them that right jeopardizes their mental health and physical well-being,” he said.
Only two transgender athletes have ever applied to the state’s high school athletic association to be eligible for participation in school sports, and only one trans student has been approved to play – that case involved a trans boy on a boy’s team, which is not covered under the bill, according to an assessment from Indiana House Democrats.
“Indiana codified legislation directly targeting a few vulnerable students into law to distract from Republicans inability to meet the moment and form a cogent agenda,” according to House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta said.
“When the GOP doesn’t have answers to folks’ toughest questions, they resort to legislative measures meant to distract and divide,” he said in a statement. “Meanwhile, 56 [per cent] of transgender students have reported a suicide attempt. Have we no mercy for our most vulnerable children?”
Indiana joins at least a dozen other states that have enacted or are considering laws to block transgender students from participating in school sports, including in Utah, where legislators also blocked a governor’s veto.
In March, Utah’s Republican Governor Spencer Cox explained to the state’s legislative leadership that only four transgender students participate in high school sports in the state, and only one transgender student participates in women’s sports.
“Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few,” he wrote. “I don’t understand what they are going through or why they feel the way they do. But I want them to live. And all the research shows that even a little acceptance and connection can reduce suicidality significantly.”
A 2021 report from LGBT+ suicide prevention and crisis intervention group The Trevor Project found that LGBT+ young people are four times more likely to seriously consider, plan or attempt suicide than their peers, while LGBT+ young people between the ages of 13 and 24 attempt to kill themselves every 45 seconds within the US.
Governor Holcomb’s veto message said Indiana’s bill claimed that “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.”
In 2022, Republican legislators filed an unprecedented number of bills that would impact LGBT+ Americans, with roughly one-third of those bills directly targeting transgender people, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
Roughly half of those bills sought to prohibit transgender youth from participating in school sports.