Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky vetoed a bill on Wednesday that would prevent transgender girls and women from playing on girls’ sports teams in middle school and high school.
The State Legislature, which is dominated by Republicans, could override the veto with a simple majority in both chambers, and analysts expect lawmakers to do so when they reconvene next Wednesday. The bill had easily passed both chambers.
Mr. Beshear, a Democrat, wrote in his veto that the bill “discriminates against transgender children” and thus “most likely” violates the equal protections enshrined in the US Constitution. Republican governors in Utah and Indiana have recently vetoed similar legislation, and the governors of Kansas, Louisiana and North Dakota did so last year.
The Utah Legislature overrode the veto, becoming the 12th state to enact legislation barring young transgender athletes from participating in girls’ sports. Republican lawmakers are expected to override the Indiana veto, too.
Republican sponsors and conservative activists framed the Kentucky bill, which is known as the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” as a defensive measure. If it becomes law, sports teams designated for girls in sixth through 12th grades will “not be open to members of the male sex,” based on the child’s original birth certificate.
On Being Transgender in America
Supporters of the bill argue that biological differences, especially after puberty, may give transgender girls a physical advantage in sports over cisgender girls.
The Family Foundation, a Christian policy organization in Kentucky, expressed disappointment with the veto. “Kentucky girls and women deserve a fair playing field,” David Walls, the executive director, said in a statement.
“Biology matters, especially in sports,” said Mr. Walls, who accused Mr. Beshear of siding with “his woke political base.”
One often-cited 2017 report in the journal Sports Medicine, which reviewed eight research studies and 31 sports policies, found “no direct or consistent research” suggesting that transgender girls have an athletic advantage over their cisgender peers.
The Fairness Campaign, a state LGBTQ rights organization, has said it was aware of only one openly transgender student-athlete in Kentucky. She started her school’s field hockey team, said the group’s executive director, Chris Hartman.
“From the start, this bill has been more about fear than fairness,” Mr. Hartman said in a statement.
The student, Fischer Wells, testified against the bill in February. If it were to pass, she said at the time, “that means I can’t play, and it will be extremely detrimental to my mental health.”
“It’s disgusting that this bill is even suggested,” she said at the time. “It’s terrible. And I worked really hard and practiced so many hours.”
In his veto, Mr. Beshear pointed out that the bill did not present “a single instance in Kentucky of a child gaining a competitive advantage as a result of sex reassignment.” He also noted that the Kentucky High School Athletic Association recognized the right of transgender students to play interscholastic sports.
Education has become a primary issue as the country heads toward the midterm elections.
Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona and Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma both signed legislation last week barring transgender women and girls from playing on girls’ teams. And Republicans have also targeted discussions about race and have tried to ban divisive books.
On Wednesday, Mr. Beshear also vetoed a bill that would have, among other issues, limited the ways teachers speak about race, racism and parts of American history in the classroom, one of a number of bans on what legislators have described as “critical race theory.”