Utah Senate, House pass controversial transgender sports bill in final hours of session

Mar 5, 2022, 5:11 PM | Updated: Jun 19, 2022, 9:42 pm

SALT LAKE CITYAfter 45 days, the Utah legislative session wrapped up its final night Friday.

“It’s the night we’ve been looking forward to,” said Utah Gov. Spencer Cox. “I do feel like this was one of our best sessions ever.”

Even with so much to feel good about, there’s one bill pushed through in the final hours that Cox, and many others, just don’t feel right about.

“If you look back historically across the history of the legislature, some of the worst decisions get made at the last minute,” he said.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox

He’s talking about House Bill 11, which deals with student eligibility in Utah high school athletics. However, this bill specifically talks about transgender athletes competing, which the Utah legislature voted to ban late Friday night.

That version of the bill, an all-out ban, surprised many people.

Cox said he’s disappointed in the process and promised to veto the bill as soon as it gets to his desk.

“We have never discussed a ban. I’d never had a conversation about a ban with anyone this session,” he said.

So, why did the legislature vote on this bill last minute without much discussion?

“I would say the primary reason why we ran the bill with the ban intact is that’s what we can get the votes for,” said Sen. Daniel McCay, who is a sub-sponsor of H.B. 11. “Our constituency has told us over and over and over again they want something done with this issue.”

Sen. Daniel McCay

Those who voted for the ban say it protects female athletes and girl’s high school sports by not having biological boys compete with them, creating an unfair natural competitive advantage.

“The one thing I hear consistently is if girls want to compete, we need to make sure they’re protected while they’re competing,” McCay said during an interview Saturday morning.

Rep. Kera Birkeland, who sponsored H.B. 11, released a statement Saturday morning.

“The legislative process is interesting and often complex. There are 104 lawmakers in two chambers with differing opinions and perspectives. While H.B. 11 did not play out how I expected or intended, I do not want to undermine the fact that I have poured my heart and soul into finding a way to balance protecting Utah’s female athletes with inclusivity and acceptance for the past two years and will continue to do so.”

Rep. Kera Birkeland

Troy Williams, the executive director for Equality Utah, says the handful of transgender athletes in Utah aren’t looking for an unfair advantage.

He also says the three or four transgender athletes who are known in Utah at this point aren’t dominant in their sports.

“I think the challenge is we cannot treat high school students like they’re all Olympians,” Williams said. “They’re not all trying out for the Olympics. They play sports because they just want to fit in, because it’s healthy, because they want to work as a team, have a fall and get back up again.”

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah.

Both sides agree it is a controversial issue that isn’t going away any time soon.

“We know that we’re going to be trying to figure this out for a long time. It’s not going away,” McCay said.

No matter what is ultimately decided, many people say they’re upset at the process of lawmakers who passed a bill without it getting much, if any, public discussion.

“I think there will be the potential for a lot of regret for doing that and not giving it the right process,” Cox said.

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Utah Senate, House pass controversial transgender sports bill in final hours of session