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Utah Legislature overrides transgender sports ban veto

HB 11 Transgender Sports Bill Override, March 25, 2022
Emily Means
Republican Rep. Kera Birkeland, the sponsor of HB 11, stands and makes her case for overriding the governor's veto, March 25, 2022.

Just days after Gov. Spencer Cox vetoed a bill that bans transgender girls from competing in girls sports, state lawmakers voted to override it. After the House passed the override, almost completely along party lines — 56-18, the Senate moved quickly to approve it by a vote of 21-8.

Lawmakers originally passed HB 11 on the final night of the 2022 General Session. The full-on ban replaced a bill born of a year of negotiations between LGBTQ advocates and conservative groups, though reportedly no one from either side of the issue was pleased with it.

Cox explained to legislative leadership his veto stemmed from concerns about the rushed process, the likelihood of lawsuits and how it would impact trans kids in Utah and their mental health.

“I don’t understand what they are going through or why they feel the way they do,” the governor wrote. “But I want them to live.”

The day prior to the override, community members rallied at the Capitol in support of trans kids. LGBTQ advocates have said the bill sends a message that trans kids “don't belong.”

HB 11 Transgender Sports Bill Override-2, March 25, 2022
Emily Means
Republican lawmakers who worked to override Gov. Spencer Cox's veto of HB 11, from left to right, Senate President Stuart Adams, Speaker of the House Brad Wilson and Rep. Kera Birkeland.

As the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, pushed back against those claims during Friday’s override session.

“I truly believe that what we have before us is a bill that says we will preserve and protect the integrity of women's sports,” Birkeland said. “We will work as a group and work as a state to improve and bring new opportunities and better opportunities to transgender youth.”

Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley, gave an impassioned speech explaining his “no” vote. He also spoke strongly against the bill on the last night of the session.

“We want to protect our girls, but I think this bill hurts our girls,” Thatcher said. “I think it hurts the trans community. I think it violates our oath to the Constitution, and I think it wastes money.”

He also mentioned the law was unlikely to go into effect because it would likely be held up in court — just like similar bans in Florida, Idaho and West Virginia. Many states have attempted different forms of legislation to determine participation for athletes.

“So what we're really doing here is political theater,” he said. “Because it won't go into effect, so we won't get any of the benefits from passing this bill, but we will get absolutely all of the harms.”

The Legislature later amended the bill to clarify the state will be responsible for legal costs should the expected court challenge come to pass, instead of schools. It appropriates $500,000 for the effort.

Cox said he was “heartened” that the Legislature changed the bill to remove the “enormous financial burden that inevitable litigation will have” from schools.

“I remain hopeful that we will continue to work toward a more inclusive, fair and compassionate policy during the interim,” he said.

HB 11 is scheduled to go into effect on July 1, 2022.

Produced with assistance from the Public Media Journalists Association Editor Corps funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.

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