INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb vetoed a bill on Monday that would have banned transgender girls from participating on sports teams at K-12 public schools designated for girls.
In a letter to House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, Holcomb said the bill leaves too many unanswered questions for him to support the bill "even if I support the overall goal."
He said the presumption of the policy laid out in HEA 1041 is there is an "existing problem" requiring state intervention. He also pointed to a number of potential issues, including frustration among students, parents and administrators, lawsuits and lawsuits filed or threatened to have been filed in other states after similar legislation was passed.
He said HEA 1041 is unclear how consistency and fairness will be maintained for parents and students across different counties and school districts. Holcomb said he shares concerns and confusion raised by the Indiana High School Athletic Association during testimony about exactly who or how procedures will be established and maintained under the current bill.
"Meaning, student-athletes could be treated differently according to which school they attend and compete for," Holcomb wrote. "Frustration of students, parents and administrators will likely follow. This of course only increases the likelihood of litigation against our schools with the courts having to adjudicate the uncertainties."
Not a single "male seeking to participate on a female team has completed the process established" by the IHSAA policy, he said.
The latest By-Laws & Articles of Incorporation from the Indiana High School Athletic Association allow transgender student-athletes to obtain a waiver through IHSAA's Gender Policy to participate on single-gender athletic teams.
He said he is "heartened" by the IHSAA and its work to help maintain fairness and consistency in all sports.
"Nowhere in the testimony on this legislation was a critique leveled against their model on how to govern this and other complex matters," he wrote.
In response to Holcomb's veto, Paul Neidig, commissioner of the Indiana High School Athletic Association, said the specific language of the bill did not "adequately address" the issues at hand.
"As Commissioner of the Association, I support Governor Holcomb’s decision regarding his veto of HB1041. Throughout the legislative process, I publicly expressed reservations with the proposed legislation only addressing a single gender and the grievance procedure," Neidig wrote.
"The Association appreciates the Governor's perspective in recognizing the IHSAA's gender policy, which was originally written in 2006 and updated in 2017. Our policy is rooted in the Association’s substantial interest in students’ health and safety, in competitive equity, in safeguarding a level playing field, and in ensuring that there is fair opportunity for athletic participation in a manner that enhances the education of all high school students. Through Governor Holcomb’s
veto, this policy continues to allow the flexibility to assess competitive advantage in each unique case," he wrote.
Huston and State Rep. Michelle Davis, R-Greenwood, the bill's author, said in a press release they plan to override the veto during technical corrections day on May 24.
"The fundamental goal of this legislation is to protect competition in girls' sports, and House Republicans will vote to override this veto when lawmakers meet again on May 24," Huston said in the release. "This issue continues to be in the national spotlight and for good reason as women have worked hard for equal opportunities on the playing field – and that's exactly what they deserve."
Davis said the goal of HEA 1041 is to "maintain fair competition and integrity in girls' sports."
"Hoosier female athletes deserve the opportunity to win and lose on a level playing field," Davis said in the release. "Despite being equal, biological males and biological females both possess different genetic strengths and weaknesses. Because of these differences, biological girls should compete with girls and biological boys should compete with boys. This commonsense legislation would protect athletic opportunities for Hoosier girls right now and into the future. This bill is especially important as we mark the 50th anniversary of the enactment of Title IX giving women athletes the right to an equal opportunity in sports. Hoosier girls deserve better and that's why I look forward to taking action to override this veto."
A spokesperson for the Indiana House Republicans said under state law, legislators can come back after the regular session for a technical corrections day. During this day, they can take up vetoes and other things.
The day, May 24, was set by Senate Concurrent Resolution 47.
A constitutional majority in the House and Senate can override a veto. For HEA 1041, it will need to be considered in the House first since it originated there first.
You can read the full letter from Holcomb below:
Family watching veto override effort closely
Beth and Nathaniel Clawson, whose 9-year-old daughter is transgender, said as high as they felt Monday, that high quickly became a low.
"When the veto happened, we said as a family, 'Ok we're going to celebrate this small victory knowing that it could be taken away very quickly,'" Nathaniel said.
The Clawson's have three kids. Their youngest daughter, 9-year-old Kirin, is transgender.
"As a family, we've decided we have to be the voice for those who can't speak up," he said.
Advocating against laws targeting their youngest child has been a painful, emotional, eye-opening experience for the couple.
Considering they're opening themselves up to public scrutiny, WRTV asked the couple if they ever thought about shying away from being so open about their family.
Beth answered immediately with a yes and a laugh.
The couple says Kirin is a very aware and precocious child. They know they could keep her in the dark about what's happening to spare her feelings, but they don't want her to be blindsided by anything.
All of Kirin's memories are of her being identified and considered a girl. She expressed her gender identity around the age of 3, which isn't uncommon, according to experts.
"For her defense, she needs to be armed with all the information. That's how I see it," Beth said.
At 9-years-old, Kirin has participated in several sports. Her mom said this bill has lit a fire under her.
Kirin is determined to play whatever sports she wants and to be the best. The Clawson's noted their daughter won't get a surge of testosterone when she hits puberty in a couple years.
Instead, under the guidance of a healthcare professional, Kirin's puberty will be estrogen rich. While not necessary to share, the Clawsons hope by being open, they can create a dialogue around a topic that needs more understanding.