Bill that would bar transgender girls from ‘sports for female students’ advances to House

Feb 11, 2021, 2:43 PM | Updated: 2:52 pm
Transgender sports in Utah considered by legislature...
People attend a hearing in person and virtually for HB302 before the House Education Committee at the state Office Building in Salt Lake City on Feb. 11, 2021. The bill would bar transgender athletes at public schools to participate in girls sports. (Deseret News)
(Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would bar transgender girls from competing in female sports is making its way through the state Legislature, passing through the Utah House Education Committee Thursday. 

HB302, advancing with an 8-6 vote, would require schools to label athletic activities in one of three ways: “male” or “boys”; “female” or “girls”; or as “coed” or “mixed.” Participation would be based on “the biological, physical condition of being male or female, determined by an individual’s genetics and anatomy at birth.” 

The bill explicitly prohibits transgender girls from participating in female sports, but does not address transgender men in male sports. It’s unclear whether the bill would bar both activities. 

Athletes testify in favor of bill barring transgender girls from female sports

Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan and the sponsor of the bill, said the legislation would promote fairness and equality in school sports. She argued it’s unfair for females because of certain physical and biological differences, therefore it would give transgender women an advantage. 

“The first time I was forced to go up against a transgender athlete, I remember standing on the starting line, right next to the largest stature person,” said Alison Pray, who runs cross county and track at Southern Utah University, during the committee hearing Thursday. “I instantly felt completely defeated. I thought, the only chance I have to beat this individual, is if they decide to let me. Otherwise I don’t have a chance.”

“The first time I raced with a biological man, it felt bizarre,” added Haley Tanne, another track athlete at SUU. In fact, she said it felt like she was running against “a giant.”

Opponents of the bill said it’s unfair to ban someone who identifies as female from participating in women’s sports. Others said it’s harmful to transgender students who may already feel out of place in a more conservative state. 

Drafting attorney question constitutionality 

Beyond moral questions, some drafting attorneys expressed concerns the legislation, if passed, would be deemed unconstitutional. They pointed to a similar case in Idaho — in which the state Legislature passed a bill barring transgender women from participating in sports in August 2020 — that was temporarily blocked by federal courts. 

That bill is currently on appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Some legal experts maintain that even if HB302 passed, it wouldn’t be upheld in the Supreme Court. 

“Based on the Idaho law, and based on the litigation in Idaho, [it] has not yet got to fruition,” said David Spatafore, a political consultant for the Utah High School Activities Association. “We know there will be litigation if this bill passes. We’ll enforce it, but we know there will be litigations.”

The ACLU of Utah also expressed concerns about lawsuits against the state. 

If passed, the bill would provide for legal actions against schools that don’t comply. For example, if a student feels they’ve been deprived of an athletic opportunity or “suffers any direct or indirect harm as a result of a violation,” they can sue for damages. 

It would also prohibit certain investigations or complaints against schools that enforce the legislation. 

Related: Lawmakers promote bill prohibiting online impersonation

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Bill that would bar transgender girls from ‘sports for female students’ advances to House