Transgender athlete bill to return for 2022 Utah Legislature

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah. — A lawmaker in Utah who proposed legislation that would ban transgender athletes from competing in girls’ sports has announced plans to reintroduce the proposal in 2022.

The bill, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Kera Birkeland, died in a Senate committee in the final week of the Legislative session this year, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

“A lot of people don’t understand how complex this issue is,” Birkeland said. “I don’t want to do anything that makes people feel like they’re unequal.”

Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith previously raised concerns over its potential impact on transgender children and the risk of losing high-profile athletic events in response to the bill, such as the 2023 NBA All-Star Game.

Birkeland said she is now taking the opportunity to find common ground with those who raised concerns before bringing it back to the state Legislature.

The Utah Health and Human Services Interim Committee have scheduled a public hearing on the bill next month, which will be the first time people can comment on the legislation.

“If nothing else, this will give everybody the opportunity to get their voices heard,” Birkeland said. “I need everyone to come and tell me how we preserve women’s sports, while also supporting and accepting transgender girls. We need to talk about this without it becoming volatile and vicious.”

Others have already criticized the bill, including Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams, who said the bill is a solution in search of a problem.

“We have been searching high and low for transgender student-athletes in Utah schools, but so far we have not been able to find any,” he said. “Still, we believe that transgender kids can benefit from the many pro-social skills learned in school sports.”

Birkeland disagreed and said she knows several transgender athletes competing in girls’ sports. But she has declined to offer specifics for fear of singling out children.

“I do know of some, particularly junior high, where this is happening. I won’t say where because that’s not fair to kids,” Birkeland said. “But, I’m not making up a concern that isn’t really a problem.”

This year, 31 states have introduced legislation that would prohibit transgender athletes from participating in sports that correspond to their gender. Several have signed those bills into law, officials said.

Earlier this month, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, a Republican, signed a ban on transgender athletes participating in sports that correspond to their gender. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he will also sign a similar bill into law.

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