But on Wednesday, Kentucky’s GOP-controlled legislature voted overwhelmingly along party lines to bypass the governor and enact the ban.
The debate over the inclusion of transgender athletes, particularly women and girls, has become a political flashpoint, especially among conservatives.
Kentucky’s law requires public and private schools with interscholastic athletics managed by the state board to “designate all athletic teams, activities, and sports for students” in grades six through 12 as being either “Boys,” “Coed” or “Girls.”
“An athletic activity or sport designated as ‘girls’ for students in grades six (6) through twelve (12) shall not be open to members of the male sex,” the law states. The legislation says “sex” would be based on a “student’s biological sex as indicated on the student’s original, unedited birth certificate issued at the time of birth” or an affidavit “establishing the student’s biological sex at the time of birth” that is signed by a student’s medical professional who conducted an annual medical exam for the student.
While sex is a category that refers broadly to physiology, a person’s gender is an innate sense of identity. The factors that go into determining the sex listed on a birth certificate may include anatomy, genetics and hormones, and there is broad natural variation in each of these categories. For this reason, critics have said the language of “biological sex,” as used in this legislation, is overly simplistic and misleading.
The law also sets up a similar ban for public and private Kentucky colleges that are “a member of a national intercollegiate athletic association.”
The NCAA has come out in opposition to such bans, saying last April that it’s closely monitoring them to make sure NCAA championships can be held “in ways that are welcoming and respectful of all participants.”
LGBTQ advocates, who have had some limited legal success in fighting such bans, quickly denounced Kentucky’s new law, with the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth, saying the legislation will cause harm to an already marginalized community.
“Governor Beshear was the third governor this year to uphold the dignity of transgender and nonbinary youth, and veto an attempt by lawmakers to write them out of existence. While those young people continue to face unrelenting political attacks, the Kentucky legislature voted to override that act of courage and compassion, pushing these marginalized youth even further to the sidelines,” said Sam Ames, the group’s director of advocacy and government affairs, in a statement.
This story has been updated with additional details.
CNN’s Amanda Musa contributed to this report.