In a letter to the state's Senate president and House speaker, Cox told his fellow Republicans that he was moved by data showing that among 75,000 kids playing high school sports in Utah, only four were transgender, with just one involved in girls sports.
"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," he wrote. "Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few."
Cox also cited research on how a sense of belonging could reduce suicide rates among transgender youth, adding that while he struggled to understand "conflicting" science, he sought to employ kindness.
"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," Cox wrote.
“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," he added. "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."
The veto made Cox the second Republican governor to go against fellow GOP state lawmakers on the issue this week.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb vetoed a similar statewide ban on Monday. Holcomb said Indiana’s Legislature had not demonstrated that transgender kids had undermined fairness in sports.
Eleven states — Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia — have implemented bans targeting transgender athletes.
In Utah, legislative leaders announced plans to convene on Friday to discuss overriding the governor. Cox called for a special session that would allow the Legislature to amend the bill and provide funding for school districts and youth sports organizations that anticipate facing lawsuits.
Two-thirds of lawmakers are needed to override the veto.
“Doing nothing is taking a step backward for women. Finding a solution to this complicated issue is necessary to maintain fair competition now and in the future,” Utah Senate President Stuart Adams said in a statement.
Cox has said the bill invites lawsuits that could bankrupt the state’s high school athletics governing body.
Republican House Speaker Brad Wilson countered that, “One of the things we care a lot about is competitive and safe women’s sports. And if there is a cost to the state of Utah to preserve and protect that, that clearly is policy that lawmakers are comfortable with."