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Politics & Government

Lawmakers Signal There May Be Room For Compromise On Transgender Girls' Sports Participation

A photo of a transgender pride flag.
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Two anti-trans bills in the Utah Legislature this year seem headed for defeat.

After a Utah Senate committee voted down a bill earlier this year banning transgender girls from competing in girls school sports, the sponsor promised to work with stakeholders to find a compromise.

The idea was to balance “preserving female sports” and making sure transgender kids don’t feel excluded.

Supporters of the original bill say it's not fair for people assigned male at birth to compete against people assigned female at birth. Critics argue the policy discriminates against transgender girls.

The issue had another public hearing Wednesday during the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Interim Committee. The conversation in many ways resembled debates from earlier this year around the original bill and did not focus on suggestions for how to compromise. But a few lawmakers did briefly float some ideas.

“The NCAA and the Olympics both require testosterone testing because they're acknowledging there is a competitive advantage that exists in testosterone,” said Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Herriman. “It's incredibly expensive, but testosterone testing is one policy approach.”

There are no records of any trans athletes currently participating in school sports in Utah, according to the state’s High School Activities Association. The association’s policy requires transgender athletes to take hormones for a year before competing. There’s no policy for junior high students, said bill sponsor Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan.

Birkeland said, without offering proof, there are transgender students competing in junior high and high school but aren’t openly out. She said she’s spoken to them about it, but would not provide any details about who they are because of privacy concerns.

“Some have indicated to me they don't feel comfortable and confident that should they [come out], they will be accepted,” Birkeland said.

Rep. Suzanne Harrison, D-Draper, suggested the Legislature work with the existing policy.

“I'm just wondering if it's a matter of enforcing the current policy and then certainly a discussion about the junior high issue,” she said.

Birkeland said she is planning round table discussions and working groups to address the issue over the next few months.

Sue Robbins, a member of the Transgender Advisory Council for Equality Utah, urged Birkeland to make sure transgender voices are heard just as much as cisgender ones in those meetings.

“The feedback is probably going to be more against us because we're talking about [a small] percent of our youth [that is transgender],” Robbins said. “If we have 50 people in a roundtable, then one or two of those parents have a transgender and intersex kid and the other 48 don't. So we have to be careful about the echo chambers that we hear.”

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