Michael Hiltzik, columnist for the Los Angeles Times, is furious at Spencer Cox, Governor of Utah. Last year, Cox vetoed a bill intended to bar four (4) trans athletes from participating in women’s high school sports. At the time, Hiltzik praised him for his “compassion.”But he just signed an even worse law. Hypocrite!

Hiltzik writes:

Back on March 22, Utah Gov. Spencer J. Cox took a stand against anti-transgender legislation that was rare — indeed, unique — among Republican politicians by vetoing a harsh anti-transgender bill passed by the Legislature.

“I always try to err on the side of kindness, mercy and compassion,” Cox wrote in his veto message on the law designated HB 11. He noted that the measure, which prohibited transgender girls from participating in school sports that match their gender identities, was directed at four transgender students out of the 75,000 student athletes in Utah.

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

On Saturday, Cox climbed down from his principled position by signing a vastly harsher law.

The 2023 Utah Legislature’s SB 16 doesn’t target transgender youths participating in school sports. It’s much, much broader — a comprehensive ban on providing any gender-affirming medical care to most transgender minors, including hormone therapy.

SB 16 is a “brutally unfair” law that bans “the only safe and effective treatment for many children with gender dysphoria,” says Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which is already preparing a lawsuit challenging the law in partnership with the Utah ACLU.

How does one judge the character of politicians? One way is to see if they stand up for principle in the face of intense political pressure.

By that measure, Cox is a spectacular failure. We can go further: He’s rewritten the dictionary definition of “political hypocrisy.”

Cox explained his March 2022 veto of HB 11 in a five-page, closely reasoned letter to the legislative leaders, who responded by overriding his veto.

His signing statement for the new law runs a crisp 128 words and calls the measure a “nuanced and thoughtful approach.”

Before examining whether that’s a fair description of one of the harshest pieces of anti-transgender legislation in the country, let’s look at the political context — that is, the snarling, mercilessly malevolent approach of Republican politicians to transgender people.

Since the Trump years and up to the present day, Republicans have been trying to roll back anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. But they’ve especially targeted the transgender community.

The reason isn’t hard to discern. In their crass and cruel quest for targets to unite their base against, they had run out of acceptable candidates for discrimination and abuse.

Open racism was no longer socially acceptable (though it has made a strong comeback lately, in Trump’s wake). It is no longer respectable to make fun of the mentally ill, the homeless, the disabled.

Republicans would like to target LGBT people, but too many Republicans have gay friends and family. They would like to be openly racist, but that’s not socially acceptable. So that leaves transgender people as the Menace Terrorizing Our Community.

Some states, like Idaho, have criminalized gender-affirming care. Others, like Texas, threaten to investigate parents for child abuse if they seek medical intervention.

For a moment in political time, Cox stood against the tide of malignant bigotry that defined the GOP’s approach to LGBTQ rights. At the time, I praised him and Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb(who also vetoed an anti-transgender law) for their principled stances, which I took as evidence that the Republican Party had not completely thrown in with its worst instincts.

Alas. Now it turns out that Cox has allowed that tide to wash over him.

The law, says Reed, “will effectively end gender-affirming care for transgender youth in the state of Utah.” The law went into effect immediately with Cox’s signature, “before any veto campaign could be mounted and before families could make preparations,” Reed noted.

In his 2022 veto message, Cox wrote sympathetically of the challenges faced by the four transgender schoolchildren playing team sports in Utah — “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.”

He paid attention to research finding that 86% of trans youth reported suicidal thoughts and 56% hadattempted suicide. “I want them to live,” he said. “And all the research shows that even a little acceptance and connection can reduce suicidality significantly.”

But then he signed a bill ending gender-affirming care for those four kids. Cox is back in the Republican mainstream.