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Indiana governor vetoes bill banning transgender girls from participating in girls' school sports

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana's governor on Monday vetoed a bill banning transgender girls from participating in girls' school sports.

Opponents of the transgender sports bill argued it was a bigoted response to a problem that doesn't exist, with the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana saying it planned a lawsuit against what it called "hateful legislation."

Republican sponsors of the bill said it was needed to protect the integrity of girls' sports and opportunities for girls to gain college athletic scholarships but pointed out no instances in the state of girls being outperformed by transgender athletes.

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb signaled support for the bill last month but said in his veto letter that the legislation "falls short'' of providing a consistent statewide policy for what he called "fairness in K-12 sports.''

Holcomb also pointed to the Indiana High School Athletic Association, which has a policy covering transgender students wanting to play sports that match their gender identity and has said it has had no transgender girls finalize a request to play on a girls' team.

"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," Holcomb said in his letter. "It implies that the goals of consistency and fairness in competitive female sports are not currently being met. After thorough review, I find no evidence to support either claim even if I support the effort overall."

Indiana lawmakers can override the governor's veto with simple majorities in both the House and Senate. A veto override vote could happen as soon as May 24, which legislative leaders have scheduled as a tentative one-day meeting.

The Indiana law would prohibit K-12 students who were designated male at birth but identify as female from participating in a sport or on an athletic team that is designated for girls or women. But it wouldn't prevent students who were designated female at birth but identify as male from playing on boys' or men's sports teams.

Eleven other Republican-led states have adopted such laws that political observers describe as a classic "wedge issue" to motivate conservative supporters after the governors in Iowa and South Dakota signed their bans in recent weeks.

Holcomb's veto comes seven years after Indiana faced a national uproar over a religious objections law signed by then-Gov. Mike Pence that opponents maintained could be used to discriminate against gay people. The Republican-dominated Legislature quickly made revisions blocking its use as a legal defense for refusing to provide services and preventing the law from overriding local ordinances with LGBTQ+ protections.

Democrats argued Republican lawmakers were following a national conservative "culture war" with the transgender girls' sports ban.

"Signing House Bill 1041 into law would have put the lives of our children in jeopardy," state Democratic Party Chairman Mike Schmuhl said. "However, this unnecessary debate has set a tone with kids that being transgender means something is wrong with them."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.