We don’t like it, but have come to expect that politics will be a rough business. Loud voices, angry words and fear mongering have become the norm.

It’s not every day that a political leader wades into a red-hot political debate and attempts to engage the issue with “kindness, mercy and compassion.”

But that’s just what was done this week by Utah Gov. Spencer Cox when he vetoed a bill that would have prohibited transgender students from participating in girls’ sports.

The bill is one of hundreds filed in legislatures over the last two years that make a tiny minority of children the focus of cruel attention. Parents are told that these children are stealing opportunities from their children and need to be stopped by the heavy hand of government.

But Cox wrote that the affected children were not trying to steal anything from anyone. They were “just trying to find some friends and feel like they are a part of something,” Cox wrote. “(They are) just trying to get through each day.”

Cox said he was persuaded that the veto is necessary because trans kids have high rates of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts, but that even a small amount of acceptance and connection could dramatically reduce the risk. And Cox said that the number of students affected by the law did not justify the approach.


Utah, like Maine, has a process that allows transgender students to petition to participate in scholastic sports. Cox said that in his state, where there are 75,000 student athletes, only four transgender children had completed the process and only one of them participates in girls’ sports.


Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, shown in 2021, reminded the legislative leaders in his state that everyone should have a place in Utah. Spenser Heaps/The Deseret News via Associated Press

“Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few,” he said.

Cox isn’t the only Republican governor who has vetoed anti-trans legislation, but such bills have become central his party’s political and cultural agenda. On Tuesday, Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, used her time as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee to quiz Supreme Court nominee Katanji Brown Jackson about a trans athlete who recently won a college swimming championship, as if one sports trophy ranked as one of the most important constitutional issues facing the nation.

In contrast, Cox reminded the legislative leaders in his state that everyone should have a place in Utah.

“I must admit, I am not an expert on transgenderism,” Cox wrote, proving his point by using a word that transgender people find inaccurate because it implies that their gender expression is ideological.

“I struggle to understand so much of it and the science is conflicting” Cox continued. “When in doubt, however, I always try to err on the side of kindness, mercy and compassion.”

Those are unusual sentiments in today’s politics, but they were exactly the right response here. Imagine how much more we could accomplish if we allowed our political leaders to be guided by values like that.

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