Transgender youth, allies rally at capitol ahead of vote to override veto

Mar 24, 2022, 10:58 PM | Updated: Jun 18, 2022, 8:50 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Hundreds rallied in support of transgender children outside the Utah Capitol building Thursday, ahead of a vote on Friday to override Gov. Spencer Cox’s veto of HB11.

In a week full of mixed messages, members of the LGBTQ community and allies held a rally with a united message for transgender youth:

“We are showing trans kids that no matter what happens. No matter what the legislature does tomorrow. We are here,” said one woman from the podium.

“Sports, it helps me get through a lot of things,” a trans student said. “I know for some other kids that are also trans, we just want to play. We just want the opportunity to play and have fun with the rest of the kids.”

Just three weeks earlier, lawmakers voted to pass HB11 on the last day of the 2022 legislative session. The bill “requires schools and local education agencies to designate athletic activities by sex” and bans transgender girls “from competing against another school on a team designated for female students.”

“We need to be sure that we preserve women’s sports. And that doesn’t mean we can’t create opportunities for transgender youth,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kera Birkeland.

“It just means we can’t allow opportunities or transgender youth to take away opportunities from women.”

“They’re solving problems that do not exist,” another trans youth said. “And these bills and laws are dangerous.”

“If we’re going to sit here and attack our marginalized community, let’s know there’s pain that goes with it because we love our kids and we won’t stand for that,” said Sue Robbins, a transgender woman who works with Equality Utah.

“To me (the bill) is giving the OK. It’s OK to marginalize,” said Angie Pedersen.

Pedersen said the bill does not directly impact her transgender son, who plays on the girls basketball team. But as a mom and educator she has seen the struggle many in the community face to feel accepted.

“When you feel like your broken and you feel like something’s wrong with you, it is really hard to speak to feeling like you should be part of this community. Part of this state. Part of your school and stay,” she said.

“I have found with my own children as they embrace who they are fully that they can then thrive.”

Many speaking were quick to praise Cox, who vetoed HB11 earlier this week.

“We all had kind of a sigh of relief when Gov. Cox decided to veto the bill,” said Kevin Randall, spokesperson for the Utah Pride Center. “So far, I think he’s doing a great job of trying to be empathetic with transgender youth.”

But amid the united cheers of support for trans youth, is the reality of the division that surrounds the bill. For Birkeland—who spoke to KSL by phone Thursday night — at the heart of the issue is preserving sports for women.

She said she believed more work needed to be done to provide other opportunities for transgender girls to compete. But she defended her bill and the timing of it, saying, “I think we’re doing more harm by waiting” to pass it.

“I will continue to try to advocate for (transgender youth) when and where we can,” she said. “I just don’t think it should be on the backs of our daughters.”

“Let’s just talk about this bill with compassion not just for the transgender kids. But for all the kids.”

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Transgender youth, allies rally at capitol ahead of vote to override veto