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Following last-minute changes, Utah lawmakers pass transgender bathroom bill

Protestors unfurl a banner on the steps of the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City in opposition to HB257, a transgender bathroom access bill the Senate has taken up, Jan. 25, 2024.
David Childs
Protestors unfurl a banner on the steps of the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City in opposition to HB257, a transgender bathroom access bill the Senate has taken up, Jan. 25, 2024.

Update Jan. 30 — Gov. Spencer Cox has signed HB257. In a statement, the governor said “We want public facilities that are safe and accommodating for everyone and this bill increases privacy protections for all.”

After the Senate made revisions that loosened restrictions — and then reversed them 24 hours later — the Utah Legislature greenlit a bill prohibiting transgender people from accessing public bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity. The bill now heads to Gov. Spencer Cox.

On Jan. 26, Sen. Dan McCay made another substitute to the bill, with little explanation as to what changes were.

“There were advocates who felt like there were certain unintended interpretations that could have been taken from the bill,” McCay said. “One was a student entering a bathroom by mistake or whatever could become criminal.”

He said lawmakers updated the bill to “clarify” that there would be no criminal penalties for a child accidentally entering the wrong bathroom.

Sen. Dan McCay and Rep. Kera Birkeland, right, at the head of the table, participated in a short conference meeting on the latest substitute version of HB257, a bill that sets standards for access to gendered facilities such as bathrooms, Jan. 26, 2024.
Saige Miller
Sen. Dan McCay and Rep. Kera Birkeland,

In a short conference meeting with a handful of lawmakers, the Senate approved the substitution, with all Democrats and two Republicans against it. The bill was then sent back to the House and without debate passed the chamber. Similar to the Senate, all House Democrats and two Republicans opposed the bill.

McCay believes the legislation, which has sparked controversy over concerns it targets and puts the transgender community at risk, creates “more privacy spaces” and protects “women from exposure that they don't want while they're in privacy spaces.”

Under the bill, McCay said a transgender person who uses the restroom or locker room that correlates with their gender in a publicly owned and operated building is “still at risk” for criminal charges, even if they don’t commit any lewd or offensive behavior.

“A person should go to the bathroom of their birth sex,” he added. “And if there's questions, they ought to find a non-gender specific bathroom.”

Transgender students in public schools won’t be allowed to use the bathroom or locker that matches their gender identity, either. They would have to make a “privacy plan” with the school to gain access to unisex or staff facilities. The bill would also require more construction of unisex bathrooms inside new government-owned and operated buildings and look into retrofitting existing facilities to add more single occupancy stalls.

Senate Minority Leader Luz Escamilla said the caucus didn’t object to the most recent substitution “just to make it very clear” in the statute that a child would not have a criminal record for using the wrong bathroom by mistake.

Democrats fiercely resisted the bill, and Escamilla emphasized her caucus “will continue to advocate for better public policy.”

In a statement, Equality Utah, an LGBTQ advocate, acknowledged the Legislature for adopting changes that “ensure that children in public schools will never face criminal penalties for being in bathrooms that do not correspond with their gender identity.”

“We still hold the position that transgender Americans have the freedom and liberty to access facilities within public spaces. We are sorry for the fear and distress that many within the community are experiencing as they read these bills.”

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