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Utah Senate amends transgender bathroom bill to target behaviors, not identity

Sen. Daniel McCay on the first day of the 2024 Utah legislative session in Salt Lake City, Jan. 16, 2024.
Briana Scroggins
Special to KUER
Sen. Daniel McCay on the first day of the 2024 Utah legislative session in Salt Lake City, Jan. 16, 2024.

Update, Jan. 25 — A day after making a bill substitution, Sen. Dan McCay introduced another substitution that largely rolled back some of the changes introduced on Jan. 24. The Senate passed the bill with two Republicans and all Democrats in opposition 21 to 8. Our original story continues below.

A bill that set out to restrict bathroom and locker room use in public buildings by transgender people has been revised in the Utah Senate.

A substitution made by Sen. Dan McCay, the Republican floor sponsor, no longer defines who can enter a sex-designated bathroom in publicly funded spaces. There are still bathroom restrictions, but now they only apply to “government-owned and operated” buildings, such as public schools and universities.

A former version of the bill that passed the House, sponsored by Republican Rep. Kera Birkeland, extended the limitation to bathrooms on the basis of gender in “publicly funded and publicly owned” facilities, which included domestic violence shelters.

The amended HB257, McCay said, shifts focus to “the actions of those who commit lewd and offensive behavior in a privacy space. It's no longer related to gender or identity” and improves “privacy and peace of mind for everyone in public changing rooms and bathrooms.”

The locker room restrictions remain intact. It also still prohibits transgender students in K-12 schools from using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity. If a transgender student doesn’t feel comfortable with that, they would be required to establish a “safety plan” with administrators to gain access to unisex or faculty bathrooms.

“Our schools already have policies that allow for non-gender specific bathrooms to give additional privacy in those situations,” McCay said.

Sen. Daniel Thatcher, one of the only Republicans who voted against last year’s gender-affirming care ban for transgender youth, spoke in favor of the bill because of the revisions.

“Removing the sex designations related to restrooms and focusing on the behavior is a huge change,” he said. “And that, I hope, is enough to bring support from the community and to send the message.”

LGBTQ+ advocacy group Equality Utah, however, isn’t fully behind the bill.

While Marina Lowe, Equality Utah’s policy director, believes loosening the restrictions around bathroom access is good, they still have concerns, especially as it relates to children.

“What we are left with is still a ban for transgender kids in our public school system from using the bathroom consistent with their gender identity,” she said. “We feel really sad about that.”

The bill does require more single-occupancy bathrooms to be built in new government buildings and looks into retrofitting current facilities to add more stalls.

The updated version has yet to pass the Senate. If it does, it will go back to the House for another vote.

Saige is a politics reporter and co-host of KUER's State Street politics podcast
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