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Indiana family fears battle over state's transgender athlete ban isn't over

Gov. Eric Holcomb vetoed a bill that would ban transgender girls from competing on female sports teams, but the Legislature could override his veto. 

An Indiana family celebrated after Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb vetoed a bill Monday that would have banned their transgender daughter from playing sports. 

“There were happy tears shed,” Nathaniel Clawson, the father of a 9-year-old trans girl named Kirin, told NBC affiliate WTHR of Indianapolis. 

Kirin plays soccer and volleyball and is involved in roller derby. “There was dancing, and when I told Kirin, she squealed with glee,” Clawson said of Holcomb’s veto.

But their celebration might be short-lived.

Syndication: The Herald-Times
Kirin Clawson poses with her parents, Beth and Nathaniel Clawson. Rich Janzaruk / USA Today Network

Indiana legislators have enough votes to override Holcomb’s veto and enact the bill, which would bar Kirin from playing on girls’ sports teams at school. 

If that happens, Indiana would become the 12th state to ban trans student athletes from playing on the school sports teams that align with their gender identities, as opposed to their assigned sexes at birth.

The issue is part of what advocates have described as a culture war debate ignited by conservatives in recent years to drive voters to the polls. Thirty states have considered bills similar to Indiana’s this year, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which tracks the bills.

Supporters of trans athlete bans argue that they’re protecting fairness in women’s sports, because trans women get a competitive advantage from going through testosterone-driven puberty. 

Advocates say that the bills are a solution in search of a problem and that transgender girls aren’t dominating girls’ sports in elementary, middle or high schools — the levels of sport the bills target.

“My daughter will never go through male puberty,” Clawson told WTHR. He added that Kirin will undergo hormone therapy and that, as a result, “she will not have any of the muscle mass, the bone density that people are worried about.”

Advocates also say the bills are an attempt to bar trans youths from being able to take part in the same activities as their peers, which could lead to social ostracization in other ways and have negative mental health impacts. 

Clawson told WTHR that sports for kids should also be more about learning skills like teamwork than about winning. 

“My wife basically has said — and I agree with her — that my kid’s mental health is more important than your kid’s trophy,” he said.

Holcomb is one of three Republican governors to have vetoed a trans athlete ban. In his veto letter, he said the legislation “falls short” of providing a consistent statewide policy for “fairness in K-12 sports.” He said the policy presumes that there is an existing problem with K-12 sports in Indiana and that the “goals of consistency and fairness in female sports” aren’t being met. 

“After thorough review, I find no evidence to support either claim even if I support the effort overall,” he wrote.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox vetoed a similar bill Tuesday, writing in an emotional letter to the Legislature that five numbers led to his veto. He said that 75,000 kids participate in high school sports in Utah and that of those, only four are transgender. Of those four, one plays girls’ sports. He also cited a 2020 study that found that 86 percent of trans youths have reported suicidal thoughts and that 56 percent have reported attempting suicide. 

“Four kids and only one of them playing girls sports,” he wrote. “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. Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few.”

Cox also acknowledged that the Legislature has the votes to override his veto. “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,” he wrote. 

Last year, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, also a Republican, vetoed a similar bill, saying at the time that the state “has a level playing field and fairness in girls’ sports.” 

“To date there has not been a single recorded incident of a transgender girl attempting to play on a North Dakota girls’ team,” he said in a statement at the time.

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