Tide of public comment in committee doesn’t slow Utah’s transgender bathroom bill
A bill restricting which bathrooms and locker rooms transgender people can use is rapidly moving through Utah’s Legislature. It cleared the House last week. The Senate Business and Labor Committee approved it on Jan. 22 by a 5 to 3 vote, with two Democrats and Republican Sen. Todd Weiler voting against it.
HB257, titled “Sex-Based Designations for Privacy, Anti-Bullying, and Women’s Opportunities,” deals with publicly-funded buildings, including schools, county recreation centers and domestic violence shelters. The bill would require transgender people to use only bathrooms and locker rooms that match their sex assigned at birth, rather than their gender identity. Or they can use single-use stalls or uni-sex bathrooms, which the bill also requires more of.
The exception would be if a transgender person had their birth certificate updated to match their gender identity and had completed gender-affirming surgery.
“This bill is trying to seek a balance of ensuring that women's rights are protected and that there is privacy for everybody in this state.” the bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Kera Birkeland, told the committee.
Birkeland framed it as a women’s safety issue, but clarified that no one she knows cares if a transgender woman goes into a women’s bathroom and uses it for its intended purpose. She said her bill is aimed at men falsely claiming to be transgender in order to go into women’s bathrooms or locker rooms.
Rather than it being an issue about transgender people, Democrat Sen. Nate Blouin opined that “it seems more like a creepy men in bathrooms issue.” He suggested that this be looked at as a loitering issue so that it was focused on behavior rather than identity.
Weiler said the police officers he’s talked to have told him it is already illegal for a man to hang out naked in a women’s locker room. He then asked Birkeland if this bill would do anything to prohibit people hanging out naked in locker rooms for predatory reasons if their sex matched the sex-specific space. Birkeland responded “no.”
Acknowledging that most in the packed audience were there for the bathroom bill, committee chair Sen. Curtis Bramble rushed through the other four bills on the agenda in order to have as much time as possible for public comment.
The majority of those commenting were opposed to the legislation. Some were trans individuals who described how they would be negatively affected and people who had trans loved ones they were worried about. There were concerns from health care professionals about the physical and mental health of their patients. Some commenters also mentioned the high rates of suicide for transgender people. There was also opposition from educators, including the state’s largest teachers union.
The line to speak against the bill started with about 35 people, but it kept growing as the meeting went on. Not everyone was permitted to speak.
Only nine people spoke in favor of the bill.
A Salt Lake County Council member, a representative of the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office and a Utah County public defender all said this legislation would be hard, or practically impossible, to enforce.
Gabriella Archuleta with the YWCA, a domestic violence shelter, said they strongly oppose the bill because it would require domestic violence shelters to discriminate against transgender women, which would jeopardize their federal funding.
After the public comment period, lawmakers spent less than 10 minutes discussing the bill before voting to pass it out of committee. It now moves to the full Senate.