Where the law stands on transgender athletes competing in Utah

Dec 11, 2023, 6:50 PM | Updated: 9:00 pm

transgender athletes in Utah...

West High School students protest the Utah Legislature's passage of HB11, which bans transgender girls from participating in female school sports, in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, April 6, 2022. The conversation of transgender athletes competing in school sports is being debated nationally. What is Utah's stance on the topic? (Laura Seitz/Deseret News)

(Laura Seitz/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The conversation of transgender athletes competing in high school sports continues across the United States.  It has states working to understand what role, if any, they play in policymaking regarding this topic. What’s the situation in Utah?

The question comes after Utah lawmakers passed a law in 2022 that bans transgender students from participating in school sports. After lawmakers passed the bill, two Utah families filed a lawsuit challenging the law. Today, the law is on hold while the lawsuit makes its way through the courts.

As a result, transgender students in Utah may now be permitted to participate in school sports but only on a case-by-case basis. The decision comes down to a commission of politically appointed experts from the athletic and medical fields.

Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan is one of the original sponsors of the bill. She told KSL NewsRadio she wants all kids to participate in sports, however, it’s a matter of where and when. She said it comes down to the child’s safety and competitive advantage.

How transgender athletes in Utah can participate in school sports

A review by the commission, according to Birkeland, applies to both transgender boys and transgender girls. It only comes into play in certain situations. For example, if a transgender girl (someone who has transitioned from male to female) wants to play in a male school sport.

“If this youth is in the process of transitioning from woman to male, female to man, … he shouldn’t necessarily be on the boy’s teams … Biologically, this young man still has the body mass and everything of a girl,” Birkeland said.

Birkeland said four student-athletes have gone through the process of a commission review. The commission looks at and considers a student’s height and weight among other things. However, this depends on the sport.

“Obviously, for golf, it’s very different, versus volleyball,” Birkeland said. “Height is a huge advantage in volleyball. It might not necessarily be the biggest advantage for golf.”

She said the commission is made up of people who make judgments based on individual sports. They then decide if there are any safety concerns or unfair athletic advantages.

“We don’t tell them what information they (trans-student-athletes) must provide,” she said. “We just tell them to provide the information that will help the commission make the best decision as regards to safety and competitive advantage.”

As far as Birkeland is aware, she said, none of the four students have been approved by the commission. She said this doesn’t concern her, because she trusts the experts on the commission.

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard on weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon.

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Where the law stands on transgender athletes competing in Utah