Opinion: Georgia leaders refuse to acknowledge transgender children

Governor gets a small culture war win at expense of compassion and kindness

The only way the Republican leadership in Georgia could promote a politically driven ban on transgender female athletes was to pretend such children did not exist.

In legislative hearings, they listened without comment to impassioned pleas from transgender students and parents of younger children to show compassion and kindness to all kids.

They ignored the mother who pleaded on behalf of her 13-year-old transgender daughter: “This bill is called Save Girls Sports, but how do I save my daughter? How do I tell her I’m sorry you can’t play lacrosse anymore because some legislators down at the Capitol who have never met you, who have never seen you play, don’t think you should?”

They shrugged off the young adult who told them: “Transgender kids and queer youth are killing themselves because of bills like this. I almost did.”

Gov. Brian Kemp often talks about protecting his own three daughters. He never mentions transgender children.

In fact, it was Kemp’s visit to the General Assembly in its final hours last week that revived a ban on transgender girls playing on girls’ sports teams. The bill had fallen to the wayside and was presumed out of the running for passage this year.

In his brief pep talk to the House and Senate at 8 p.m. on April 4 , Kemp said there was “work to do this evening” on girls’ sports. As the AJC’s political writer Patricia Murphy reported: “The unexpected request sent Republicans scrambling to produce a win for the governor, in some form or fashion.”

They attached an amendment to the divisive concepts bill, another political offertory to conservative core voters. Passed after midnight, the amendment created a 10-member executive oversight committee to study the future of trans athletes in school sports.

Kemp took it as a victory, sharing its passage at a north Georgia rally Thursday. The governor won enthusiastic applause from the crowd, which was always the payoff he sought. Not one case of a transgender girl dominating a high school sport was ever brought forward in two years of legislative hearings on proposed bans.

Kemp may win the partisan cheers, but his Republican counterpart in Utah earns the profile in courage. Gov. Spencer Cox vetoed a ban on transgender girls playing on female teams, risking the wrath of the Legislature and the voter in that very conservative state.

Cox told lawmakers in March that he was not an expert on people who identify as transgender. But he shared what he did know. In Utah, 75,000 kids participated in high school sports. There were just four transgender kids among them, and only one played girls sports. Cox shared other statistics: 86% of trans youth reporting suicidal thoughts and 56% having attempted suicide.

Cox wrote an extraordinary letter to lawmakers, a letter that no one in Republican leadership in Georgia would ever consider for fear of losing votes and support. And it’s likely Cox will lose both.

Utah lawmakers quickly overrode his veto. Fox News personality Tucker Carlson heaped scorn on him, saying, “Bright, red Utah is now led by a cut-rate Gavin Newsom imitator called Spencer Cox.”

Here is part of what Cox wrote in that letter:

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. Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few. 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.

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. 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.

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