Utah bans transgender athletes in women’s sports

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On Friday, Utah GOP lawmakers banned young transgender athletes from playing on girls’ teams, overriding a veto and joining 11 other states with similar laws amid a nationwide culture war.

The ban previously received the support of a majority of Utah lawmakers, but fell short of the two-thirds needed to overturn it.

Its sponsors on Friday unseated 10 Republicans in the House and five in the Senate who had previously voted against the proposal.

A dozen states now have some sort of ban on transgender children in school sports. The Utah law goes into effect July 1.

Republican Patron, Rep. Kera Birkeland, who is also a basketball coach, welcomed the decision and said conversations with student athletes compelled her to take action.

“When we say, ‘It’s not a problem in our state,’ we’re saying to these girls, ‘Sit down, shut up, and be nice,'” she said.

State Rep. Kera Birkeland, a Republican high school basketball coach who led Utah’s effort to ban transgender girls from youth sports

Lawmakers listen to parents talk about the prospect of their children competing against transgender girls in school sports at the Utah State Capitol on Friday, March 25

Lawmakers listen to parents talk about the prospect of their children competing against transgender girls in school sports at the Utah State Capitol on Friday, March 25

Anika Bateman holds a sign

Anika Bateman holds a “You Belong Here” sign during a rally in support of transgender youth outside the Capitol in Salt Lake City, Thursday, March 24

Lawmakers are planning legal challenges similar to bans blocked in Idaho and West Virginia, where athletes have said the policies violated their civil rights. They argued that the bans violate their privacy rights, due to the testing required if an athlete’s gender is disputed. The ACLU of Utah said Friday that a lawsuit was inevitable.

The bill reverses a veto letter from Governor Spencer Cox, who blocked the bill after arguing it would target vulnerable transgender children already at high risk of suicide.

Cox was the second GOP governor this week to overturn lawmakers on a ban on sports participation, but the proposal has won support from a vocal conservative base that has particular influence over the state’s primary season. Utah. Even with those contests looming, however, some Republicans stood with Cox in rejecting the ban.

“I cannot support this bill. I cannot accept the waiver of the veto and if it costs me my seat, so be it. I will do the right thing, as I always do,” Republican Senator Daniel Thatcher said.

Business leaders have also sounded the alarm that the ban could have a multi-million dollar economic impact on Utah, including the possible loss of the NBA All-Star Game next year. The Utah Jazz called the ban “discriminatory legislation” and opposed it.

The ban on transgender athletes from playing women's school sports in Utah would affect transgender girls like this 12-year-old swimmer seen in a Utah swimming pool on February 22

The ban on transgender athletes from playing women’s school sports in Utah would affect transgender girls like this 12-year-old swimmer seen in a Utah swimming pool on February 22

Not too long ago, efforts to regulate transgender children’s participation in sports failed to gain traction in state houses, but over the past couple of years, groups like the American Principles Project launched a well-coordinated effort to promote the legislation nationwide. Since last year, bans have been introduced in at least 25 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. This week, lawmakers in Arizona and Oklahoma passed bans.

“You start these fights and inject them into politics,” said Terry Schilling, president of the American Principles Project. “You pass them in a few states and it starts to take on a life of its own and becomes organic. We helped start this fight and we help see it through, but a lot of that comes from the local level.

Leaders in deeply conservative Utah say they need a law to protect women’s sports. Lawmakers argue that more transgender athletes with possible physical advantages could eventually dominate the field and change the nature of women’s sports without legal intervention.

Utah has only one transgender girl playing K-12 sports who would be affected by the ban. There have been no allegations that any of Utah’s four young transgender athletes have competitive advantages.

The Visit Salt Lake group, which organizes talks, shows and events, said the waiver could cost the state $50 million in revenue. Utah-based DNA testing genealogy giant Ancestry.com also opposed it.

Salt Lake City is set to host the NBA All-Star Game in February 2023. League spokesman Mike Bass said the league is “working closely” with the Jazz on the matter. The team is partly owned by NBA star Dwyane Wade, who has a transgender daughter.

Supporters of the ban, however, say they planned to lessen the impact of boycotts like the ones that forced North Carolina to repeal a law limiting public restrooms transgender people could use, Schilling said. . The American Principles Project strategically focused on early legislation in powerful, populous states where businesses and organizations would lose significant investment if they left. With a muted economic game precedent, the group expects smaller states to receive similar treatment.

Utah Governor Spencer Cox, who vetoed a ban on transgender students playing women's sports on Tuesday

Utah Governor Spencer Cox, who vetoed a ban on transgender students playing women’s sports on Tuesday

Utah’s legislative leaders said concerns about economic backlash and the NBA’s withdrawal from Salt Lake City were premature and noted that Texas and Florida had not faced boycotts.

“I hope the NBA and other groups understand that our intention here is to protect women’s sports and to keep women’s sports safe and competitive. And if they have any ideas on how best to do that, we’d be happy to have a chat with them,’ Utah Republican House Speaker Brad Wilson said.

Utah has always been among the most conservative states in the nation. But an influx of new residents and tech companies coupled with the growing influence of the tourism industry often sets the stage for heated debate over social issues in the state that is home to the Church of Jesus Christ of Saints. of the Last Days.

On Thursday and Friday, protesters for and against a ban gathered at the Utah Capitol.

Friday’s deliberations came after more than a year of negotiations between social conservatives and LGBTQ advocates. Birkeland worked with Cox and Equality Utah activists before introducing legislation that would require transgender student-athletes to appear before a government-appointed commission.

People attend a rally in support of transgender youth outside the Capitol in Salt Lake City, Thursday, March 24

People attend a rally in support of transgender youth outside the Capitol in Salt Lake City, Thursday, March 24

The proposal, although presented as a compromise, failed to gain traction on either side. LGBTQ advocates took issue with Republican politicians appointing commission members and judging criteria that included body measurements such as hip-to-knee ratio.

In the final hours before the Legislature adjourned earlier this month, GOP lawmakers overrode the legislation with an outright ban.

Lawmakers are planning legal challenges similar to bans blocked in Idaho and West Virginia, where athletes have said the policies violated their civil rights. They argued that the bans violate their privacy rights, due to the testing required if an athlete’s gender is disputed. The ACLU of Utah said Friday that a lawsuit was inevitable.

The Utah policy would revert to the commission if the courts end the ban.

The threat of lawsuits worries school districts and the Utah High School Athletic Association, which said it lacked the funds to defend the policy in court. Lawmakers also changed the ban on Friday to provide taxpayer money to cover the costs of potential lawsuits and insulate the districts and association from liability.


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