By Maria Caspani
(Reuters) – Arizona, Oklahoma and Kentucky passed bills on Thursday that would ban transgender youth from participating in girls’ sports, the latest in a flurry of state legislation by Republicans on a heated election year issue.
In addition to the Republican-sponsored “Save Women’s Sports Act”, Arizona lawmakers passed legislation that would prohibit physicians from providing gender-affirming surgery to minors. Both bills are now headed to the desk of Governor Doug Ducey, also a Republican. Arizona passed a third bill, which would ban abortions after 15 weeks of gestation.
The votes largely fell along party lines.
“Why would we be legislating bullying against children who want to … participate in sports?,” Democratic Representative Kelli Butler said in an emotional speech on Thursday. “That’s not the country that I know and that I am proud to be a part of.”
A bill with the same “Save Women’s Sports Act” title passed in the Oklahoma Legislature on Thursday.
In Kentucky, lawmakers passed SB 83, which would ban transgender girls from participating in girls sports from sixth grade through college. The bill now goes to Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, a Democrat. Beshear’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but Democrats have generally supported rights for LGBTQ+ people and opposed restrictions on participation in sports teams for transgender students.
Supporters of these bans argue they are needed to ensure transgender athletes do not have an unfair advantage. Opponents of the bans, including advocates for transgender people and organizations like the Women’s Sports Foundation, say that such measures are discriminatory, and they advocate for the inclusion of transgender students in school sports.
Governors in states including Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and Iowa have already signed into law bills that ban transgender girls from competing in girls’ sports.
Similar bills were vetoed by the governors of Utah and Indiana this week, signaling the reluctance of some Republican leaders to align with the broader party that sees the issue as a winning strategy to attract voters ahead of U.S. congressional elections in November.
Republican lawmakers in both states said earlier this week they planned to override the governors’ vetoes.
(Reporting by Maria Caspani; Additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein; editing by Grant McCool)