Rotherham: ‘Rarely Has So Much Fear and Anger Been Directed at So Few’ — A Note of Humanity as Utah Gov Vetoes Trans Ban Aimed at Just 4 Kids

Gov. Spencer Cox (Utah National Guard / Flickr)

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A version of this essay originally appeared on the Eduwonk blog.

There is a dispiriting quality to the “debate” about transgender athletes and high school and collegiate athletics. Both proponents and opponents wave away a lot of complicated facts on the ground. It’s why I wrote last year in The 74 that we need a national commission to help set guidelines and best practices and update the ones we have as needed. Whatever you think of Lia Thomas, the Penn swimmer who recently won an NCAA championship in women’s swimming, she was following the rules the NCAA created, not creating her own.

The other day, I noted that on the political right, the culture war seems to move in only one direction on these issues. Then, this week, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox issued a very humane veto of a transgender sports ban in that state — precisely because the issue is complicated. His veto may well be overridden, which is exactly what happened with the Arkansas example I used the other day (Indiana’s governor also vetoed a ban). Still, it was noteworthy, and his veto message is worth reading for a couple of reasons. First, the governor supports some sort of process here to resolve complicated issues that do arise around competition; it’s the outright ban he objects to. That’s getting lost in some of the coverage. And the sausage making part of the letter deserves reading, too. And, second, because the letter emphasizes that we’re talking about young people here and humanity should be at the core. That part is excellent.

From Cox’s letter:

Finally, there is one more important reason for this veto. I must admit, I am not an expert on transgenderism. I struggle to understand so much of it and the science is conflicting. When in doubt, however, I always try to err on the side of kindness, mercy and compassion. I also try to get proximate, and I am learning so much from our transgender community. They are great kids who face enormous struggles. Here are the numbers that have most impacted my decision: 75,000, 4, 1, 86 and 56.

  • 75,000 high school kids participating in high school sports in Utah.
  • 4 transgender kids playing high school sports in Utah.
  • 1 transgender student playing girls sports.
  • 86% of trans youth reporting suicidality.
  • 56% of trans youth having attempted suicide

Four kids, and only one of them playing girls sports. That’s what all of this is about. Four kids who aren’t dominating or winning trophies or taking scholarships. Four kids who are just trying to find some friends and feel like they are a part of something. Four kids trying to get through each day. Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few. 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. For that reason, as much as any other, I have taken this action in the hope that we can continue to work together and find a better way. If a veto override occurs, I hope we can work to find ways to show these four kids that we love them and they have a place in our state. 

Andrew Rotherham is a co-founder and partner at Bellwether Education and a member of the board of directors of The 74. He writes Eduwonk.com, where a version of this commentary first appeared. 

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