Utah legislature passes controversial transgender athlete bill

H.B. 11 has been delivered to Governor Cox and, if sined, will ban transgender student-athletes from participating in women's public school sports. Illustration by Gabriel Toscano.

Recently the Utah State Legislature passed House Bill 11 which, if signed by Governor Spencer Cox, will put in place a ban on transgender student-athletes from participating in women’s public school sports.

H.B. 11, which passed in the Utah State House on March 4, is a part of a trend of bills that have passed in several other states such as Idaho and Texas that have restricted transgender student-athlete participation, or have outright banned their participation altogether. 

“Everything about this is geared toward this child wanting to play in this sport. To me, it makes sense.” stated Rep. Kera Birkeland (R-H.D. 53), the bill’s sponsor, during the committee hearing

The bill went through several versions before it had passed to the House Health and Human Services Committee. The bill voted on in committee would have set up a commission that would have evaluated transgender athletes on a case-by-case basis to determine if they could participate in women’s sports. However, Sen. Dan McCay (R-S.D. 11) proposed an amendment to the bill that returned it to a ban with an intent to have the committee as a failsafe if it is challenged by the courts.

“Having both of those options on the table is an important place for us as a state to land,” stated McCay during the senate floor debate. McCay, getting emotional, tied this with him being a father of four children, “As a father, I feel it’s my responsibility. I’ve got to protect them.”

This amendment came late during the final night of the session on March 4. Senate Democrats in the Utah State Senate caucused for time to debate the amendment. This request was denied by Senate Republicans. Sen. Daniel Thatcher (R-S.D. 12) rose along with senate democrats to oppose the bill.

“I am disappointed in the message that we are sending these kids tonight. These kids who just want to be normal, who just want to be loved, who just want to be seen, who just want to live,” said Thatcher in an emotional speech given during the debate. “I want them to know that I couldn’t do more. I want them to know that we are changing.”

Thacher followed this up by encouraging students who were struggling to download the Safe UT app, a state app that helps students who are struggling with bullying.

Governor Cox has stated on KUTV2 that he would veto the bill if it ever reached his desk. Later the governor tweeted, “We care deeply about Utah’s female athletes and our LGBTQ+ community. To those hurting tonight: It’s going to be OK. We’re going to help you get through this. Please reach out if you need help. [Safe UT] is free and provides immediate and confidential counseling.”

The bill was delivered to the governor’s office on March 15, and no action has yet been taken on the bill.

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