It doesn't take a whole lot of moral courage to protect girls' sports in the middle of a nationwide controversy. But apparently, it takes a lot more than Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb (R) has. In a move that defies logic, timing, politics, and state values, the man heading up one of the biggest fan bases in America wants people who just watched Lia Thomas to believe: transgenderism isn't hurting anyone.
It should've been the easiest decision crossing Holcomb's desk. Not only had the country just witnessed the greatest NCAA larceny in the history of women's sports, but Americans everywhere were outraged. Forty-eight hours earlier, a biological man had stolen the titles and racing lanes of actual women who had trained their entire collegiate careers for a crack at a national title. Unlike other leaders, the Indiana governor had an opportunity to do something about the outcry in real time: sign an enormously popular bill banning boys from Indiana's K-12 girls' sports. He refused.
In a letter to Indiana House Speaker Todd Huston (R) announcing his veto, Holcomb claimed that there's no "problem" in Indiana. Incredibly, he argued that signing the bill would imply that the goals of "consistency and fairness" are not being met. Well, in case the governor hasn't turned on the television in the last four months, they haven't! Not one but two biological men hijacked what should have been the premiere event in women's swimming last weekend. One more, and they could have swept an entire podium.
To Republicans, parents, coaches, and everyday Hoosiers, Holcomb's decision is breathtakingly ignorant. Local grassroots groups couldn't believe the veto in light of the swimming world's soul-crushing scandal. "This is tone-deaf but reveals the mindset of a moderate governor who has repeatedly ignored & disappointed the conservative GOP base," AFA of Indiana tweeted. The Indiana Family Institute was just as astonished. After all, protecting girls' sports is about as mainstream as it gets right now. "Unbelievable. Governor Holcomb has officially abandoned common sense and reality. Hoosiers, you deserve better. Our female athletes certainly deserve better."
The reverberations hit as far away as D.C., where Indiana Congressman Jim Banks (R) blasted Holcomb's decision to snub a bill that in his mind "doesn't go far enough." "My hope is that the Indiana General Assembly will meet soon to override the veto and send a message to the rest of the nation that Indiana values women." Fortunately, there's a legitimate chance of that since the GOP holds a majority in both chambers. In the meantime, most people want to know: who got to Holcomb? Was it the Chamber of Commerce? The NCAA?
Whoever it was, they helped write this narrative from state Democrats, which isn't going to be much help if Holcomb has aspirations in 2024 or beyond: "It's encouraging to see Governor Eric Holcomb tell his party that their culture wars have crossed the line."
As every Republican should have learned from Governor Kristi Noem (R-S.D.), the fastest way to become a pariah in the GOP is to put yourself on the opposite side of this issue. But unlike Noem, who didn't have the moral courage to help blaze that trail, Holcomb would have had the political cover of 11 states who've already enacted similar laws (and 62-percent support from Americans who want them). This wasn't a difficult lift, even for the weakest of knees.
The problem with Holcomb's logic -- and there are several -- is that you don't wait for something to become a problem before you address it. If there's unfairness somewhere, it's a threat to fairness anywhere. We don't wait for another country to attack before we fund our national defense. We plan ahead. Good leaders with the best interest of their people at heart do too.
And just how many more girls should be benched or forced to change in front of aroused boys before Holcomb decides it is a problem? When Lia Thomas refused to compete with the University of Pennsylvania's men, he didn't just rob girls of a spot on the team. He made them open a safe, private space -- the women's locker room -- to a fully developed man, regardless of their level of discomfort. "It's definitely awkward," one teammate admitted anonymously, "because Lia still has male body parts and is still attracted to women." Since it's swimming, she explained, "there's a decent amount of nudity." "It's really upsetting, because Lia doesn't seem to care how it makes anyone else feel. The 35 of us are just supposed to accept being uncomfortable in our own space and locker room for, like, the feelings of one [person]."
In Indiana, the feelings of one person -- Eric Holcomb -- have the power to destroy a lot more: the sports careers and experiences of tens of thousands of girls. Let's hope the state's Republicans find the conviction the governor couldn't -- and right the daughters he's wronged.