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Bill restricting transgender students in sports moves forward

Feb 14, 2022, 12:53 PM | Updated: Feb 15, 2022, 7:30 am
Lawmakers are thinking about overriding a veto from the Governor's office....
Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, speaks against a transgender girls sports bill sponsored by Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, right, during a legislative hearing before the House Health and Human Services Committee at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday, Feb. 14, 2022.

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill concerning whether transgender students can play in school sports passed out of the House Health and Human Services Committee today.

The bill sponsored by Rep. Kera Birkeland, R- Morgan, passed 6-to-3 along party lines. It will move onto the full House.

Birkeland sponsored a bill last year that completely banned transgender girls from competing in girls’ sports. The bill, titled “Preserving Sports for Female Students,” got to the Senate last year, but died in a Senate committee. Gov. Spencer Cox had also indicated he wouldn’t sign it at the time.

It’s not a surprise that it’s made a comeback, Rep. Birkeland indicated last year that she would bring it back to the legislature.

Eligibility commission for transgender student-athletes

Under this bill, students would upload their birth certificates and then select the gender-designated sport they want to play, i.e. women’s basketball or men’s soccer. If the sex on their birth certificate doesn’t match the gender of the team they want to play on, a commission would decide if they’re eligible to play.

The School Eligibility Activity Commission would include a mental health professional, statistician, sports physiologist, and collegiate athletic trainer, among others. The people on the commission would be chosen by the Senate President, Speaker of the House, the Governor, and the local athletic association.

Birkeland said students who have legally changed the sex on their birth certificate to match their gender identity would still have to go through the commission. She also said all student-athletes are required to upload their birth certificate, not just transgender students.

“This preserves women’s sports,” Birkeland said. 

She said this commission will prevent a “Lia Thomas” situation, in reference to a University of Pennsylvania swimmer who is a transgender woman. There has been national debate over whether Thomas should be able to compete on the women’s team.

How the public feels about the bill

Gayle Ruzicka with Utah Eagle Forum said the bill was not strict enough and said transgender girls should not be able to compete in girls’ sports under any circumstances. Others who spoke were against the bill because they thought it would hurt transgender students.

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, told lawmakers this bill was better than previous iterations but he can’t fully support the bill. He said Birkeland reached out to Equality Utah and listened to their feedback, but they still had concerns that she hadn’t resolved in the latest version of the bill.

He said his main concerns were elected officials were choosing the members of the commission, qualifications of commissioners placed too much on the value of competition rather than participation, and he didn’t think lawmakers should decide the specific physical characteristics that make a person eligible but they should leave that up to the experts on the commission.

He said he was worried about an elected official having an anti-transgender bias and choosing commission members that reflect that bias.

Dr. Jennifer Plumb, a pediatrician and University of Utah professor, told lawmakers she is the parent of a transgender child. She said she recently talked with her child about this bill.

“She said, ‘Well, if the goal is to keep us out of the locker rooms and off the fields and off the courts, it’s working’,” Plumb said.

She said it sounded like lawmakers were talking about transgender students as “problems” rather than “humans.”

“My child is not a problem. My child is a straight-A student,” Plumb said. “Let’s just remember, these are loved, beloved members of our society. Let’s protect them as we move forward in this space.”

Kara Cope, a community member, was sharing her thoughts to lawmakers virtually and was muted after calling Birkeland “transphobic” and “bigoted.”

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