Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Politics & Government

Utah Lawmakers Consider Banning Transgender Girls From Girls K-12 Sports

Girls Basketball: 1A Regionals
Scott Butner/Scott Butner
/
Tri-City Herald
Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, is sponsoring a bill that would prevent transgender girls from participating in girls sports at public K-12 schools. Birkeland said she’s not aware of any transgender athletes currently competing in Utah public school sports, but wants to put this law in place as a proactive measure.

A controversial bill in Utah would ban transgender girls from playing on girls sports teams in public schools, or private schools that compete against public schools. It cleared its first legislative hurdle Thursday as the House Education Committee approved it 8-6.

Utah is one of more than a dozen states considering this type of legislation this year. Sen. Mike Lee, R-UT, is sponsoring federal legislation that would ban transgender women from participating in collegiate and high school women’s sports. A similar 2020 Idaho law has been temporarily blocked as results of a lawsuit.

Currently, transgender high school athletes must go through hormone therapy for a year before competing in sports.

“In sports, biology matters, muscles matter, even our reproductive system matters,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan. “While inclusion is important in sports, it will come at the cost of fairness.”

Birkeland said she’s not aware of any transgender athletes currently competing in Utah public school sports, but wants to put this law in place as a proactive measure.

But critics of the bill said what’s unfair is excluding transgender girls from sports.

“[Transgender students are] all unique and deserving of every opportunity and dignity, dignity and respect,” said Heidi Matthews, the president of the Utah Education Association. “Even this discussion harms our most vulnerable youth. These transgender students that I have had (as students) are at the highest levels of not wanting to live. Hasn't the legislature prioritized suicide prevention in schools? This bill is harmful and unnecessary.”

Several collegiate athletes, including Haley Tanne, gave emotional testimony about competing against transgender women. Tanne told the story of competing against Juniper Eastwood, the first transgender athlete to compete in a Division I cross country race.

“Not only was this athlete thicker boned and generally larger, but also reached a height well over six feet and towered over the female athletes,” she said. “I couldn't believe that this was OK and deemed as fair.”

Of the 16 meets that Eastwood has competed in, she has won first place in three races.

“In the Big Sky Indoor tournament, she placed first in one race, fifteenth in another and second in the third,” said Josie Jesse, a transgender woman and activist. “That is not annihilation. That is an athlete.”

The bill now heads to the House floor, and would need to be approved by the Senate after in order to pass.

KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.