Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers has vetoed a controversial bill that would have banned transgender student-athletes from competing on sports teams consistent with their gender identity. The Democratic governor called the Republican-led legislation "hateful and discriminatory" and part of a broader attack on transgender rights nationwide.

In his veto message for Assembly Bill 377, Evers wrote, "I am vetoing this bill in its entirety because I object to codifying discrimination into state statute. I believe this bill fails to comport with our Wisconsin values. We expect our kids to treat each other with kindness, respect, empathy, and compassion, and we should be able to expect adults to lead by example."

The bill, which passed the state's GOP-controlled Legislature earlier this month, would have required Wisconsin public and private schools to designate participation in interscholastic, intramural, and club sports based on student-athletes' sex assigned at birth, rather than gender identity. Republicans argued that the measure was necessary to maintain a level playing field in women's sports, while Democrats slammed the proposal as an attack on an already vulnerable population.

The state Assembly passed the bill in October in a party-line 63-35 vote, and the state Senate sent the measure to Evers last month in a 21-11 vote that was similarly split along party lines. However, neither chamber has the two-thirds majority needed to override the governor's veto.

Evers pointed out that the bill ignores a Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) policy that has governed the eligibility of transgender high school athletes in the state since 2015. Under the WIAA policy, which is modeled after NCAA guidelines, transgender women and girls must undergo at least a full year of hormone therapy before they are able to play on female sports teams.

The governor also noted that the Legislature's proposal conflicts with federal law because it discriminates based on sex. He cited a 2021 notice of interpretation from the Education Department that Title IX's prohibition on sex discrimination includes sexual orientation and gender identity. The Biden administration's proposed revamp to the landmark civil rights law would prevent states from enacting blanket bans on transgender student-athletes.

At least 24 states since 2020 have enacted laws that categorically ban transgender athletes from competing on school sports teams that match their gender identity. However, Evers vowed to protect LGBTQ rights in Wisconsin, stating, "As long as I am governor of this great state, Wisconsin will not be among them."

The veto comes as a relief to transgender advocates and allies who have been fighting against the wave of anti-transgender legislation sweeping the nation. Evers, in his veto message, emphasized the potential harm such laws can cause, saying they "embolden anti-LGBTQ harassment, bullying, and violence, and threaten the safety and dignity of LGBTQ Wisconsinites, especially our LGBTQ kids."

As the debate over transgender rights continues to be a contentious issue across the United States, Governor Evers' veto serves as a significant victory for the LGBTQ community in Wisconsin. With Republicans lacking the votes needed to override the veto, the governor's decision to block the transgender athlete ban is likely to stand, ensuring that transgender students in the state can continue to participate in sports teams that align with their gender identity.