Gov. Eric Holcomb of Indiana vetoed a bill on Monday that would have banned transgender girls from competing in school-sanctioned girls’ sports, taking a sharply different approach to the issue than 11 fellow Republican governors who have signed similar measures into law this year.
Mr. Holcomb said the bill, known as HEA 1041, would likely have been challenged in court. He also questioned whether it was solving any pressing issue, writing in a letter to lawmakers that “the presumption of the policy laid out in HEA 1041 is that there is an existing problem in K-12 sports in Indiana that requires further state government intervention. “
“It implies that the goals of consistency and fairness in competitive female sports are not currently being met,” the governor added in his letter. “After thorough review, I find no evidence to support either claim even if I support the overall goal.”
Sports participation by transgender girls and women has become an increasingly divisive topic among political leaders and sports sanctioning groups, which have struggled to address the issue in a way that respects transgender athletes and addresses concerns some critics have raised about competitive fairness. Last week, Lia Thomas, a member of the University of Pennsylvania’s women’s swimming team, became the first openly transgender woman to win an NCAA swimming title.
Since 2019, state lawmakers across the country have introduced dozens of bills that would prohibit transgender youths from participating in school sports on teams consistent with their identities, according to the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT advocacy group.
In October, Texas became the most populous state to bar transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports at public schools. This year, Republican governors have signed similar measures into law in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.
The bill in Indiana, where the Republican-controlled Legislature passed it by comfortable margins, was cheered by some conservatives in the state. After its passage, the state’s Republican attorney general, Todd Rokita, called it “an important step in protecting youth sports” and vowed to defend it in court if it was signed into law.
Democrats and transgender activists have largely criticized the rush of legislation as cruel and unnecessary. Some of them praised Mr. Holcomb for his veto, even as they raised concerns that legislators in Indiana might override it.
“Governor Holcomb did the right thing tonight in vetoing a bill that would only cause problems, not solve them, by targeting Indiana’s transgender children and making them the targets of exclusion and discrimination in their own schools,” said Cathryn Oakley, the state legislative director and senior counsel for the Human Rights Campaign.