Bill to bar transgender girls from playing sports stalls in Utah Senate

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah.— A controversial bill to ban kindergarten through 12th-grade transgender girls from participating in sports failed to move out of a Senate committee this week, likely spelling the end of it for Utah’s current legislative session.

After lively discussion in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and impassioned public comment, the committee adjourned without voting on House Bill 302, sponsored by Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, whose district includes a portion of Park City.

The bill had earlier passed the Utah House of Representatives by a 50-23 vote. After that, Governor Spencer Cox announced he did not support the bill as it was written.

Senate committee members expressed similar discomfort.

“I hate your bill. It really, really, really sucks,” said Senator Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, as he described inner conflict over reconciling biological differences between bodies and love for his transgender friends and family members.

The bill had been amended multiple times as Birkeland met with lawmakers and strove to soften the scope of the proposed ban. But public comment from educators, lawyers, doctors, and a representative from Silicon Slopes, along with many parents of transgender children, described the bill as emotionally damaging, economically dangerous due to potential for lawsuits and canceled sports tournaments and other lucrative events, and possibly unconstitutional.

“This is a complex and sensitive issue and I appreciate the robust discussions I had with a broad group of stakeholders, colleagues, and constituents, and I thank all those who voiced their opinions,” Birkeland said in a statement after the meeting. “I will continue to stand up and speak out for past, current, and future female athletes fighting for the opportunity to compete fairly. I am optimistic we can continue to work together to create policies that preserve female sports.”

It is possible that Birkeland could pursue HB 302 next week, but as the legislative session ends March 5 and Cox has expressed unwillingness to sign it, that may not occur.

Troy Williams, executive director of advocacy organziation Equality Utah, spoke during public comment and urged lawmakers to work with the LGBTQ community on the issue in the future.

“HB302 fails to balance inclusion and fair play,” Williams said. “So I’m asking you all to really think and be aware that the whole country is watching us right now. Let’s show everybody that when it comes to Utah’s children, we’re on the same team.”

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