Wyoming governor allows transgender athlete ban to become law
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correctly reflect Chuck Gray’s state office.
Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon (R) on Friday allowed legislation preventing transgender women and girls from competing on female sports teams to become law without his signature, making Wyoming the 19th state to enact such a law and the first to do so this year.
The new law, which will take effect July 1, restricts the ability of seventh- to 12th-grade transgender girls to participate on female sports teams. Some transgender students may be permitted to participate in interscholastic activities consistent with their gender identity if they receive approval from an eligibility panel.
Gordon on Friday in a letter to Wyoming Secretary of State Chuck Gray (R) wrote that while he supports fairness in competitive athletics, he considers the legislation “draconian” and unnecessary given current state law.
“I am concerned that the ban included in this legislation is overly draconian, is discriminatory without attention to individual circumstances or mitigating factors, and pays little attention to fundamental principles of equality,” Gordon wrote.
Just four known transgender students in Wyoming are currently competing in school athletics, according to Gordon’s letter. Under a 2014 Wyoming High School Athletic Association policy, students are required to participate on sports teams consistent with their sex assigned at birth “irrespective of the gender listed on a student’s records,” but some exceptions may be considered on a case-by-case basis.
“While I can appreciate the notion of a real threat to the fairness in women’s sports in Wyoming generally (even if that threat has been amplified by a national discussion on this topic), I cannot see that Wyoming or her schools have so far failed in its responsibilities to assure fairness, security or safety, nor has either neglected its responsibility to be compassionate and supportive,” Gordon wrote Friday.
Including Wyoming, 19 states since 2020 have passed laws that prohibit transgender athletes from playing on sports teams consistent with their gender identity, though court orders are blocking the enforcement of laws in Idaho, Indiana, Utah and West Virginia.
In his letter to Gray, Gordon acknowledged that the new Wyoming law “is an invitation for a lawsuit.”
“It is difficult for me to sign legislation into law that knowingly will cost the taxpayers money to litigate and may be challenged under Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution,” he wrote.
A Title IX violation, according to Gordon’s letter, would jeopardize “all federal assistance from the Department of Education, assistance from other federal agencies that support education programs including school nutrition funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and various other sources of federal funding for educational programs.”
Enforcing the new law also comes at a cost, and an extra $100,000 of Education Department funds is earmarked for the establishment of a five-member commission that will determine eligibility requirements for gender‑designated sports, according to a fiscal review of the legislation.
In a letter sent earlier this month to Gordon’s office by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Wyoming, Antonio Serrano, the group’s director of advocacy, wrote that allowing the new law to take effect would “put Wyoming at risk of losing hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding.”
“This bill will harm transgender youth and do so in an attempt to solve a problem that plainly does not exist,” Serrano wrote in the letter. “Transgender students already live and go to school in Wyoming, they play sports and enjoy time with their friends, and they deserve the chance to succeed and thrive like any other student.”
Serrano on Friday called Gordon’s inaction “shameful.”
“Nobody wins when we codify discrimination like this,” he said in a statement.
Mental health concern raised
In his letter to Gray, Gordon said he believes the intent of the legislation is “well-meaning as a way to protect the integrity and fairness of women’s sports in our state,” but added that “enacting an outright ban” on transgender athletes sends a harmful message “that these individuals and their families do not deserve the same opportunities as others.”
“Messages like these, whether explicit or implicit, can have a devastating impact on the mental health and well-being of individuals who already face significant discrimination and marginalization,” Gordon wrote.
“Wyoming continues to lead the nation in suicide rates,” Gordon added, “and I am concerned that by enacting a ban we may be pushing these students farther down this road rather than finding ways to support them.”
Gordon said he plans to work with state education officials to ensure there is clear guidance regarding opportunities for transgender students moving forward, but “sadly that may mean these young people may not be able to compete in athletics.”
Despite his opposition to the legislation, Gordon said he is “willing” to let it pass into law without his signature, given the current political climate.
“I reiterate my belief that hate and discrimination have no place in Wyoming,” Gordon wrote. “As we move forward over the next couple of years, I urge the Legislature to carefully consider policies that promote inclusion and equality for all individuals.”
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