Advocates oppose bill restricting transgender athletes in Utah sports

Feb 23, 2021, 5:11 PM | Updated: 5:12 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)

Editorial note: This story is part of a two-part conversation around a bill aimed at banning transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports in Utah. Read more and listen to the other side of the conversation here

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah House passed a bill last week banning transgender athletes from participating in girls’ school sports, but Gov. Spencer Cox has said he has reservations about signing it into law in its current form. 

Sue Robbins, a former board chair of the Utah Pride Center and of  Transgender Education Advocates, shared her perspective on the legislation with KSL NewsRadio’s Dave Noriega and Debbie Dujanovic.

Bill OK’d along party lines

Rep. Kera Birkeland’s bill passed the Utah House on Wednesday by a vote of 50 to 23 — mostly along party lines — and would now require public schools in the state to designate athletic activities based on “sex” and not “gender.” It would effectively ban transgender female athletes from female school sports in Utah.

The Morgan Republican’s bill — HB302, titled Preserving Sports for Female Students — “requires schools and local education agencies to designate athletic activities by sex, prohibits a student of the male sex from participating in an athletic activity designated for female students.”

Under the bill, sex is defined as “biological, physical condition of being male or female, determined by an individual’s genetics and anatomy at birth.”

“It’s very important to me that we have an even playing field for our women,” Birkeland, said in a Facebook Live video.

Idaho is the only state to pass a similar law last year, but it has been blocked in federal court as a lawsuit plays out, according to the Associated Press.

Dems weigh in

The Utah House Democratic caucus had this response to the bill’s passage.


Biden signs executive order

On his first day in office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order that would prevent and combat discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.

“Every person should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear, no matter who they are or whom they love. Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports.”

Input from Utah’s governor

“I think there’s still much that we can do to protect women’s sports, and also to send a message to trans kids that there’s a place for them, and that they belong. And that’s really important to me that they know that,” Cox said during a news conference last week. 

“These kids are — they’re just trying to stay alive. There’s a reason none of them are playing sports and…I just think there’s a better way. And I hope that there will be enough grace in our state to find a better solution,” Cox said during the news conference.


Dave and Dujanovic

“As the governor was describing this . . .  you could hear it in his voice how emotional he was. He said, ‘Why it’s difficult is because both sides are right,’which you don’t hear very often,” Dave noted.

Dave and Debbie discussed the legislation concerning trans female athletes with Sue Robbins of Equality Utah and the Transgender Advisory Council, and co-host of Everyday People at KRCL RadioACTIve, raising LGBTQ+ voices and issues.

“Can you help walk us through some of this issue and why this bill is problematic in your eyes?” Dave asked. 

Robbins said at the heart of the matter of transgender athletes competing in female sports is older versus younger athletes, specifically prepubescent juveniles.

“When we look at those, they’re basically body neutral to each other. Puberty is where changes potentially come in,” she said. “Puberty is where we have transgender girls go on hormone blockers, which basically is a pause button and keeps them from going into puberty, so their body stays at that same level. They don’t build muscle mass. They don’t go through growth, etc.

“We’re in fear of these large boys with our girls, and that’s not the comparison that we should be doing,” Robbins said.

“As you describe that, Sue, I see where you’re coming from. If the bodies are the same, then the opportunity should be the same,” Dave said.

Revisit next year

“Is there room for compromise, this [legislative] session or do you want it tabled for now and the discussion to take place in the interim?” Debbie asked.

With the Legislature wrapping up its session on March 5, Robbins would like to see the issue of transgender female athletes in school sports moved to the interim period and bring all the experts into the discussion.

“There is no pressing need, yet we’re driving forward. And that’s the most concerning thing because the transgender kids are feeling like they don’t belong,” Robbins said.

The bill now moves to the Utah Senate.

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, a.s well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play. 

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Advocates oppose bill restricting transgender athletes in Utah sports