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Indiana lawmakers override governor's veto of trans girls sports ban

State senators voted 32-15 Tuesday in favor of overriding Gov. Eric Holcomb following the same action by the House earlier in the day.

INDIANAPOLIS — Republican lawmakers in Indiana voted Tuesday to override the GOP governor's veto of a bill banning transgender females from competing in girls' school sports and join about more than a dozen other states adopting similar laws in the past two years.

State senators voted 32-15 in favor of overriding Gov. Eric Holcomb following the same action by the House earlier in the day, which voted 67-28 in favor of the override.

The Indiana proposal won approval by wide margins in both the House and Senate before Holcomb in March unexpectedly vetoed the measure, saying it did not provide a consistent policy for what he called "fairness in K-12 sports."

Bill sponsors maintain it is needed to protect the integrity of female sports and opportunities for girls to gain college athletic scholarships but have pointed out no instances in the state of girls being outperformed by transgender athletes.

“As a former Division I athlete I know female athletes deserve a fair competition and an even playing field and this bill ensure just that,” said Rep. Michelle Davis, R-Whiteland, who authored the bill.

RELATED: Fellow Republicans criticize Holcomb over trans sports veto

Opponents have argued the bill is a bigoted response to a problem that doesn't exist. 

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.

Credit: AP
Activists rallied against a bill that would ban transgender students from competing in girls sports by playing sidewalk games outside of the Indiana Statehouse on Tuesday, May 24, 2022 in Indianapolis. The Legislature is scheduled to override the GOP governor’s veto of the bill Tuesday afternoon. (Casey Smith/Report for America via AP)

"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."

Credit: AP
Kit Malone, an advocacy strategist with the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, leads a rally at the Statehouse in Indianapolis on Tuesday, May 24, 2022. Dozens attended the rally to oppose a bill that would ban transgender students from competing in girls sports, and the ACLU promised to file a lawsuit against the legislation in hopes of blocking it from taking effect on July 1. (Casey Smith/Report for America via AP)

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 sued, 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.

RELATED: Republican Utah governor vetoes trans girls sports ban after Indiana vetoed similar measure

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."

In his veto letter, Holcomb also 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.

Critics, including House Democratic leader Phil Giaquinta, also say it’s unnecessary because the IHSAA already has a policy in place.

“And seems to be working well,” he said. “And frankly I also think it sends a very poor message that once again Indiana is not a welcoming state, and I’m frankly tired of it.”

House Speaker Todd Huston disagreed.

But the issue may not be over. 

Just minutes after the vote, the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a lawsuit against what it called "hateful legislation" in hopes of blocking it from taking effect as scheduled on July 1.

“We’re all in this fight together and we’re gonna stay in this fight together and I’m just so proud of you,” Kit Malone with the ACLU told the crowd at the Statehouse.

The complaint says the student, identified as "A.M.," won’t be able to rejoin her school’s softball team next season because of the new law.  

“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,'” said A.M.'s mother.  

The lawsuit states that preventing transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports is discrimination on the basis of sex in violation of Title IX, and also represents discrimination on the basis of transgender status, as well as sex, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.  

“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, a law that protects all students – including trans people – on the basis of sex and it denies the promise of the Constitution of equal protection under the law,” said Ken Falk, legal director at the ACLU of Indiana 

Indianapolis Public Schools issued a statement Tuesday in support of Holcomb's veto and said the district would investigate legal options in light of lawmakers' decision to overturn the veto. 

“IPS has consistently advocated for creating school communities that embrace and support all students, including our transgender and non-binary students. We oppose H.B. 1041 as an unnecessary restriction on our ability to provide fair and equitable access to athletics for all of our students. We agree with Governor Holcomb that this legislation does not provide a clear and consistent policy to ensure fairness in the state’s K-12 sports. We will review all legal options related to this matter.”


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