Transgender athlete ban center stage at special session

Mar 25, 2022, 10:34 AM | Updated: Apr 6, 2022, 1:42 pm

A transgender flag is pictured in front of the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 25, 2022, ...

A transgender flag is pictured in front of the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 25, 2022, during a protest over HB11, which would create commission to decide if transgender kids can play sports in schools. (Mengshin Lin/Deseret News)

(Mengshin Lin/Deseret News)

2:27 p.m. MDT: With the Utah Senate’s 21-8 vote, Utah lawmakers have overridden Gov. Cox’s veto of H.B. 11. A special session will follow immediately.


2:14 p.m. MDT: Utah Senators will not discuss H.B. 11, they have gone directly to voting, however some Senators are providing comments on their vote.


2:01 p.m. MDT:  The Utah House of Representatives has voted 56-18 to override Gov. Cox. veto of H.B. 11.

Photo credit: Kira Hoffelmeyer Photo credit: Kira Hoffelmeyer Photo credit: Kira Hoffelmeyer Photo credit: Kira Hoffelmeyer Photo credit: Paul Nelson Photo credit: Paul Nelson Photo credit: Paul Nelson Photo credit: Paul Nelson


1:26 p.m. MDT: Comments on the House floor have begun. The sponsor of H.B. 11. Rep. Kera Birkeland, spoke first in support of H.B. 11, saying the bill is intended to represent thousands of female Utah high school students who want a “level playing field.”

Rep. King asks if targeting a small group of children in Utah is “the Utah way.” And he wonders why a ban on transgender athletes was passed before enough study had been conducted.

Rep. Bennion says the issue of transgender participation has already been addressed by Utah’s school sports association.

Rep. Steve Eliason says all can agree on the importance of protecting the lives of youth in Utah. And he presses the use of the SafeUT app.

Rep. Carol Moss sees H.B. 11 as a way to prevent something that hasn’t happened. She says “we are looking for a solution that doesn’t have a problem.” She says she cares deeply about fairness in women’s sports, but that if this issue were about fairness, lawmakers wouldn’t have passed this version of H.B. 11 in the last hours of the 2022 legislative session.

Rep. Weeks Rohner says that we must show compassion for all of Utah’s youth, but not at the expense of girls’ sports. Se is also very concerned about fundraising that is going on, she says, on the backs of Utah youth.

Rep. Briscoe argues that this bill did not have public comments. “This did not happen. We did not follow the best process,” he said. “When we don’t engage in process that’s full and complete, we lose public confidence.”

Rep. Schultz says he stands in strong support of H.B. 11.  He said leaders solve problems before they become problems. He says now is the time to create policy for Utah, and that Utah shouldn’t wait until a “Penn State” situation happens here.


1:18 p.m. MDT:  The process of a veto override has begun at the Utah State Capitol. Lawmakers have convened in the House, they have determined they have a quorum, and they have sent a message to Gov. Spencer Cox, inviting him to offer statements.

At the same time, protests against H.B. 11 continue outside:

Our previous reporting follows:

SALT LAKE CITY — Soon, Utah lawmakers will consider overturning a veto from Gov. Spencer Cox that effectively creates a transgender athlete ban in the state’s high school sports. 

Thursday night, hundreds gathered on the Capitol building’s south steps to rally against the potential override of H.B. 11. 

A smattering of people and organizations have shared their thoughts on the bill. 

KSL NewsRadio will have live coverage all afternoon long.




Those who support the transgender athlete ban

Senate President Stuart Adams’s reaction

“We must work to preserve the integrity of women’s sports and ensure it remains fair and safe for all,” wrote Adams in a statement. “While Gov. Cox and I disagree on this bill, I respect the legislative process. We have been listening to our constituents, talking with experts, and we feel it’s important to make decisions now that protect athletes and ensure women are not edged out of their sport. Creating a safe and fair environment for athletes takes work. We care deeply for all students, but we can not ignore the scientific facts that biological boys are built differently than girls. Doing nothing is taking a step backward for women. Finding a solution to this complicated issue is necessary to maintain fair competition now and in the future.”

House Speaker Brad Wilson’s reaction

“Governor Cox made his intention to veto the bill clear from the day it was passed so his action today was expected,” wrote Wilson. “Members of the Legislature, including the sponsor, have worked tirelessly for more than a year to find the best way to approach a complex issue and I anticipate that we will have sufficient votes to override the veto. Ultimately, the Legislature recognizes the value of girls athletics and our members want to ensure girls have the level playing field to compete that was created by Title IX.”

Sen. Curt Bramble’s reaction

Sen. Curt Bramble, R-District 16, is the Senate sponsor of the bill. He says this measure is not meant to discriminate and says cisgender students could make a discrimination argument under Title IX sparking lawsuits on either side of the argument. Cisgender refers to a person whose gender identity and expression match their biological sex at birth.

“Civil rights violations could be brought whether you’re a straight-A student or a trans student,” he told KSL NewsRadio’s Dave & Dujanovic. “In other words, there are attorneys who would that we heard from, or that I personally heard from, that said that a biologic female has just as strong of an argument about a civil rights violation of their right under Title Nine to be able to participate. So no matter which way we turn, the threat of litigation exists, what we’re trying to do, and by the way, the process the governor had concerns and I really appreciate the heartfelt and well-reasoned letter that the governor issued. I disagree with a few of his statements, but that’s okay. I appreciate his taking the effort to explain his position. Our processes, we pass legislation, the governor reviews it, he either signs it, let’s become law without a signature, or he vetoes if he vetoes. We have a discussion in the house in the Senate, we polled our members. And if there’s a two-thirds in each body, we convene an override session. That’s where we’re at right now. The governor has already issued a call for Friday afternoon. For us to make progress on the bill.”

Those who are in the middle

The Utah High School Activities Association’s reaction

“Our position on House Bill 11 has been a neutral position. Currently, we have a policy dealing with transgender students that we administer and we oversee. And it’s proven to be successful.” said UHSAA spokesman David Spatafore. “If the bill is vetoed and is overridden, we would be concerned if there’s not an indemnification,” said Spatafore. “If there’s a special session that would amend the bill that would provide indemnification, then that’s okay, too.”

Those who are against the transgender athlete ban

Cox’s reaction

“Because the bill was substantially changed in the final hours of the legislative session with no public input and in a way that will likely bankrupt the Utah High School [Activities] Association and result in millions of dollars in legal fees for local school districts with no state protection, and for several other reasons below, I have chosen to veto this bill,” wrote Cox. “Should this occur, I will immediately call a special session to change this section of the bill in order to avoid bankrupting our athletic association and local schools. A simple veto override will not resolve this fundamental issue.”

The governor wrote a five-page letter with his thoughts. You can read it in full here.

In this letter, Cox warned of the lack of financial protection surrounding the Utah High School Activities Association. If his veto is overridden in the special session, Cox plans to ask for another session to fix aspects of the bill. Cox plans to make it so Utah schools and associations, such as the UHSAA, are not monetarily responsible for the seemingly imminent lawsuits. 

Cox said, “Unfortunately, HB11 provides no financial protection for the UHSAA, only an explicit invitation for a lawsuit. With several lawsuits already being litigated across the country, why would Utah insist — even encourage — expensive and debilitating legal action with no recourse for the organization that serves our own student athletes and schools? I hope you can agree that if we want to protect women’s sports, bankrupting the institution that is responsible for their participation is a bad place to start.”

Equality Utah’s reaction

Equality Utah’s Executive Director Troy Williams commented, “If in fact, the legislature overrides Governor Cox’s veto, which we expect them to try to do, it will be a complete collapse of the Utah way.”

Williams recalled the 2015 employment and housing protections that had passed in Utah for the transgender community. He noted that those protections weren’t easy to pass and it took working together to find a way forward.

“That’s been the model of collaboration that has completely collapsed,” he said.

The Pride Center’s reaction

Utah Pride Center Spokesman Kevin Randall: “Even if they pass this bill, I don’t think it’s the end of it.  I don’t think it’s sustainable, either. I feel like they could pass H.B. 11, but it’s going to see a lot of problems. It’s going to see legal action.”

“There are only four transgender individuals that we know of that are participating in sports that this bill impacts.  Four out of 75,000 students.”

The Utah Education Association’s reaction

UEA President Heidi Matthews says she’s hearing a lot of talk on both sides of the issue, including from some of their members who wonder why the UEA is weighing in, at all.

“Girls participating in sports… this isn’t an education issue,” Matthews said. “House Bill 11 scores political points, but it doesn’t take into consideration the consequences to transgender students. Regardless of their interest in sports, this sends a message of exclusion and intimidation.”

The Salt Lake District Attorney’s reaction

“I think the most important question is, what is this legislation trying to address?” asked DA Sim Gill. “Let children be children, let kids be kids, and look at the numbers. Look at the cruelty being inflicted on children who are in crisis. Big government should not have a role to play in these kind of family decisions. It’s bad policy for those families, it’s a waste of taxpayer money, and it is bad policy for Utah.” 

Related stories

Kira Hoffelmeyer, Lindsay Aerts, Samantha Herrera, Paul Nelson, Chandler Holt contributed to this report.

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Transgender athlete ban center stage at special session