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Visibility ‘changes hearts and minds,’ say trans advocates pressing forward after Utah’s sports ban

Hundreds gathered at the Utah State Capitol the day before lawmakers overrode the governor's veto of HB 11, March 24, 2022.
Ivana Martinez
Hundreds gathered at the Utah State Capitol the day before lawmakers overrode the governor's veto of HB 11, March 24, 2022.

For transgender activists, visibility can be a double-edged sword when it can lead to more attacks. Especially as March 31, known as the International Transgender Day of Visibility, follows less than a week after the Utah Legislature overturned a veto in order to ban trans girls from participating in girls sports.

“[People] make assumptions about who we are,” said Sue Robbins, a member of Equality Utah’s Transgender Advisory Council. “And then when they do actually look at someone who is transgender as an individual, they … use [them] as tools to fight against the transgender community just because those people were successful or they were able to achieve something.”

The substitution of HB 11, which included the ban, came on the final night of the 2022 General Session. Up until then, trans advocates, opponents and lawmakers had been working to create a commission that would evaluate trans athletes and decide if they can play.

Ban proponents say it “protects female athletes from unfair competition.” Robbins said trans youth are being attacked for political gain.

Olivia Jaramillo, the director for public outreach at Equality Utah and a transwoman, sees the latest action by lawmakers as a setback. She’s working, however, to counter misinformation about trans people and build bridges with people who may not understand her community.

“We are making progress and that is why we are seeing so much pushback because we are winning,” Jaramillo said. “We are bringing more awareness, more visibility. And I think with time, you're going to see that ironed out and it's going to be a better society.”

Both Robbins and Jaramillo are grateful for the governor’s veto and the few lawmakers who voted against the ban. The deciding factor for some of those votes could have been someone knowing a trans individual, Robbins said.

Her message to trans people is to celebrate Transgender Day of Visibility the best way they see fit.

“For those that don't feel they can be visible, I see them and I respect that, and I love them,” Robbins said. “For the rest, visibility is important because what changes hearts and minds, to me, is people getting to know us.”

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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