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What to know as Utah moves ahead with its transgender sports eligibility commission

AP — Transgender Sports Ban Lawsuit, FILE, February 22, 2022
Rick Bowmer
AP, file
A 12-year-old transgender swimmer waits by a pool on Feb. 22, 2021, in Utah. The state is asking a judge to dismiss a legal challenge to its ban on transgender kids who want to compete in youth sports. Utah's attorneys argued in July 2022 that two unnamed transgender girls lack standing to challenge the law in court, in part because they haven't been harmed by it.

A state commission will now determine eligibility for sport participation on a case-by-case basis after a judge paused the state’s all-out ban on transgender girls competing in girl’s school sports.

The ban held a provision that if the legislation didn’t pass or the law was overturned, a commission would then be put in place to determine if a transgender student can participate in school sports.

According to the law, when a transgender student registers to participate in a gender-designated activity, they must get eligibility approval from the commission.

Seven medical and sports professionals will make up Utah’s “School Activity Eligibility Commission.” The law prescribes the committee to be comprised of a sports physiologist, a medical data statistician, a mental health professional, a physician with gender identity health care expertise, an athletic trainer, an athletic association representative and an ad-hoc member for each case who is a coach or official.

Republican State Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, said commission members could be in place in the coming weeks and will start hearing cases as soon as one comes before it.

“I think that will be a case-by-case basis — how many of the athletes that are transgender in our state register and want to participate in an activity that is designated for those born female,” said Birkeland, who was also the original sponsor of the legislation banning transgender girls from participation.

The commission's decisions will be made confidentially, but the law does not spell out how the group will evaluate each case, just that it must establish a “baseline range of physical characteristics” like height and weight.

The commission will also evaluate all transgender athletes, unlike the ban, which was just for transgender girls.

Some transgender advocates see evaluating anyone’s physical traits as a problem.

“It’s not exactly what we’re finding a very affirmative action; to have to go in and be measured and potentially judged for being a bigger girl or a stronger girl,” said Sue Robbins with Equality Utah’s Transgender Advisory Council. “Our youth are girls, and that’s it. And they’re boys and they’re non-binary. This is not an easy path going forward. It’s just that we’ve knocked down the first level of harm. Now we’ll move forward and see how the rest of this transpires.”

For Birkeland, she believes the law does what she set out to accomplish.

“I think now more than ever we’re seeing that the legislation provided what I believe the majority of Utahns wanted,” she said. “[Not just] with a competition prohibition, but also this component that at the end of the day makes sure that regardless of any lawsuits that happened, we’d have something in place that would preserve the integrity of women’s sports.”

In a statement, Equality Utah said it will “watch closely” as the state implements the commission.

Sean is KUER’s politics reporter.
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