Proponents say the measure would ‘preserve female sports,’ while opponents argue it is harmful and discriminatory toward transgender youth
Titled “preserving sports for female students,” the legislation from Rep. Kera Birkeland would require schools to categorize all athletic activities as “male,” “female,” or “coed.” Students of the “male sex” would not be permitted to join in sporting events designated as being for women, according to the bill, which defines sex as the “biological, physical condition of being male or female, determined by an individual’s genetics and anatomy at birth.”
Birkeland, R-Morgan and a junior varsity basketball coach for the girls’ team at Morgan High School, has said she sees the bill as a way to improve “fairness and equality with women’s sports.”
“Across America there are stories of individuals who identified as male at birth competing against our female athletes,” she told the House Education Committee on Thursday. “These individuals who identify as male at birth are breaking records that no female will be able to reach. They’re taking championships, titles and scholarships from our female athletes. To say it’s taking a toll on our female athletes would be an understatement.”
Two women on Southern Utah University’s track team also spoke in support of the bill, detailing their anguish at competing against a transgender woman from another state. One urged lawmakers to support the bill so no woman feels “like they’ve lost before the gun goes off.”
Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, urged lawmakers to pump the brakes on the proposal, arguing that the proposal was discriminatory against transgender youth.
“It tells some children, ‘You can’t play; you don’t belong on the field,’” he said. “That’s discrimination. So please, let’s follow the Utah way. Let’s slow this down. Let’s collaborate together so we don’t have this big ugly culture war.”
In response to those accusations, Birkeland said she has “many friends who are transgender” and that it wasn’t her “intention to [exclude] them from the sport.”
“But we have to weigh that against what is fair for our female athletes,” she said.
If ultimately approved, Birekland’s bill would open the door for legal action against schools that don’t comply with the ban, stating that students who lose an athletic opportunity or feel harmed by a violation of the mandate could sue for damages. Whistleblowers who face repercussions for flagging an infraction could also sue, as could institutions that suffer harm from a governmental entity, licensing or accrediting group or athletic association.
But several lawmakers worried Thursday that the bill itself would open the state to litigation.
It’s “possible, if not probable, that a court would hold it unconstitutional,” he added.
At least 11 other states are considering similar bills restricting transgender student-athletes this session: Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas, according to Kaiser Health News.
Marina Lowe, legislative and policy counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, joked that the bill should be titled the “lawyer protection act” rather than “preserving female sports,” because it would likely prompt so many legal challenges.
It remains to be seen how the bill will fare in the full House, but it has support from at least one powerful lawmaker: the chamber’s top leader, House Speaker Brad Wilson.
In comments to reporters last week, he acknowledged that this was a “sensitive and difficult topic for those it affects,” but said he was in favor of the proposal, noting that the “way [Birkeland’s] got it crafted seems to make sense to me.”
“The intent of this bill, I think is very simple,” Wilson added. “The intent of this bill is to ensure that we do everything we can to support women’s sports and women athletes.”
Senate President Stuart Adams said Thursday that he was aware of the bill but hadn’t yet read it.
“There’s significant difference between men and women, I think we know that,” he said. “I’ll have to look to see what the bill does exactly. Hopefully it has a thoughtful process to it and tries to respect the transgender community and those who want to compete. It will be interesting to see how it moves through the House, how it’s refined.”
An effort to hold the bill in order to allow time for more deliberation and dialogue failed on a 5-7 vote. The bill now moves to the full House for further consideration.
— to sltrib.com