Gov. made solid case to veto anti-trans bill. Why didn’t he?

Kerry Drake,
Posted 3/24/23

Kerry Drake column for Friday, March 24

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Gov. made solid case to veto anti-trans bill. Why didn’t he?


Gov. Mark Gordon sounded hopping mad when he finally addressed one of the biggest social and moral issues of our time. I’m talking, of course, about Wyoming’s new ban on transgender girls competing in middle- and high-school female sports events.

In his message to lawmakers, the Republican called the legislation “overly draconian,” which is at least one step more severe than “average draconian.” He called Senate File 133 – Student Eligibility in Interscholastic Sports discriminatory because it “pays little attention to the fundamental principles of equality.” Actually, it pays absolutely no attention to these principles the Equality State supposedly holds so dear.

The governor also correctly noted the Wyoming High School Activities Association has had a system since 2014 to consider the issue at the local level, by people who know the trans student athletes.

How many appeals of those decisions have been heard by the association? Commissioner Ron Laird said not even one. Yet the bill creates a new statewide commission to hear such cases.

There’s also the monetary impact of the state’s ban. Senate File 133 originally set aside $30,000 for litigation, then $1 million, before finally settling on $100,000. It likely won’t be enough for the attorney general’s office to fully defend the state’s legal position on an unconstitutional law that Gordon called “an invitation to a lawsuit.”

Of the 18 other states that have passed similar bills since 2020, four are tied up in courts: Idaho, West Virginia, Indiana and Utah.

“It is difficult for me to sign legislation into law that knowingly will cost the state and taxpayers money to litigate and may be challenged under Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause,” Gordon wrote.

And yet all these reasons were apparently not enough to compel Gordon to veto SF 133; he simply allowed the bill and its unfair, destructive policies to become state law without his signature.

Now I’m the one who is hopping mad.

A look at the number of trans students affected by bills like SF 133 strips the far-right’s depiction of a horde of students listed as males on their birth certificates ready to crush the biologically female competition. There is no scientific basis for believing all trans girls are stronger, better athletes than their cisgender competitors.

Out of about 91,000 students in the K-12 public school system, Wyoming has only four transgender students competing in school athletics, according to Gordon.

Other states that have recently passed bans have even fewer. Kentucky has one trans middle-schooler who plays on the girls’ field hockey team. South Dakota and Tennessee each have had one trans student play school sports, but both were trans boys, who are not covered by the Wyoming law.

According to Huff Post, last year, before the ban, at least five states did not have any recorded cases of trans athletes playing school sports: Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and West Virginia.

This is a pathetic far-right talking point that has turned a few loud parents and grandparents into anti-trans crusaders at school board and legislative meetings throughout the nation.

Often there wasn’t even a constituent outcry for action. Sen. Wendy Schuler (R-Evanston) explained she sponsored the failed “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act” in 2022 because a friend complained that her daughter — who was competing in another state — might quit sports because a trans athlete defeated her. That’s hardly a clarion call for abusive legislation.

But Schuler returned this year with SF 133, which had momentum from the start. The bill passed 28-3 in the Senate and 51-10 in the House. But it had  detractors, including Rep. Karlee Provenza (D-Laramie), who said the Wyoming bill is part of a national movement.

“There are people who are pushing for these [anti-trans] ideas because they don’t intend to stop [with a ban],” she said. “Any infringement on the rights of a minority is an infringement on all of our rights.”

The next week, right-wing commentator Michael Knowles of the Daily Wire proved Provenza’s point. “Transgenderism must be eradicated from public life,” Knowles told the Conservative Political Action Committee.

Despite such loathsome, threatening rhetoric, there are already signs mainstream Republicans aren’t happy with the way transgender students are treated. A recent PBS/NPR/Marist poll found two-thirds of Americans, including 66% of Republicans, oppose these bans.

In his letter to legislators, Gordon said transgender youth face significant challenges in their daily lives, including high rates of bullying, discrimination and suicide. “Wyoming continues to lead the nation in suicide rates, and I am concerned that by enacting a ban, we may be pushing these students farther down this road, rather than finding ways to support them,” the governor wrote.

Gordon allowed the bill to become law, he said, because of the “political reality that will prolong these divisive debates.” It’s true SF 133 passed by such overwhelming margins in both chambers, members could have easily overridden a gubernatorial veto.

But by holding onto the bill until March 17, long after the Legislature adjourned, Gordon had the upper hand with a veto. Even if it upset the 79 lawmakers who voted for the trans ban, there was nothing they could do because they can’t call a special session just to consider a veto.

I think many of those lawmakers would have welcomed Gordon’s veto because their votes for the bill were driven by political calculus, not a belief such a policy was actually necessary.

What better way for lawmakers who are continually blasted by Wyoming Republican Party officials as RINOs — the derisive designation for “Republicans in name only” — to prove their conservative credentials? Voting for the ban may keep some moderates from facing an extreme-right  primary challenge in 2024, but shamefully it comes at a cost to trans students.

Given the litany of objections the governor had, I don’t see how in good conscience he didn’t veto the bill. As governor, Gordon has a responsibility to reject a terrible measure that only exacerbates inequality on the basis of sex and gender identity, needlessly eliminates a system built on local control and will cost the state a boatload of money when the inevitable lawsuits are filed.

Rep. John Bear (R-Gillette), head of the Wyoming Freedom Caucus, warned Gordon that he should be wary of making bill decisions so late in the game.

“I find it troubling that the decision-making process has taken this long,” Bear told Cowboy State Daily before Gordon’s final action on the bill. Caucus Vice Chair Rep. Jeremy Haroldson (R-Wheatland) not-too-subtly suggested the delay could impact Gordon’s political future, if he has one.

Leaders of the state GOP haven’t respected Gordon since he beat more conservative rivals in 2018. If he decides to make a bid for Congress, Gordon can’t count on any support from Wyoming Republican Party leadership, unless so-called RINOs unexpectedly take over.

Even then, it would be difficult to explain to voters why he didn’t have the political courage to veto a trans sports ban that he justifiably and thoroughly trashed.

WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and can be reached at