Lawsuit filed to challenge Utah’s ban of trans athletes from playing girls high school sports

May 31, 2022, 7:27 PM | Updated: Jun 1, 2022, 10:55 am

SALT LAKE CITY — Two families have filed a lawsuit challenging Utah’s recently passed bill — overriding a veto — that will ban transgender girls from playing girls high school sports.

House Bill 11, passed in a special session after Gov. Spencer Cox vetoed the bill, is part of a trend nationwide to limit participation of transgender athletes in some states. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kera Birkeland, said Tuesday the lawsuit was not surprising.

When originally passed, it did not have the two-thirds majority needed for a veto override but after the legislative session, additional votes were gathered or turned, some said because of re-election concerns. As members of the Senate explained their vote, some who switched said the chance to address those financial concerns in a special session was enough to switch their vote.

At the time of the veto overturn, it was expected that lawsuits seeking to keep the bill from taking effect would follow — an expectation that came to pass Tuesday. The lawsuit, filed by legal firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich and Rosati, has support from the ACLU of Utah and The National Center for Lesbian Rights.

The GOP-controlled House voted to overturn the veto by a 56-16 mark. The Senate needed 20 votes and managed a 21-8 final mark to achieve the override on March 25.

When contacted for comment by KSL NewsRadio, Cox’s office said it does not comment on pending court cases. Before the veto, Utah’s bill passed in the final hours of the regular legislative session after approximately 15 minutes of debate with no public input on the fourth iteration of the bill.

Tuesday, the two families behind the lawsuit are proceeding anonymously, using the name of Jenny Roe, for the 16-year-old junior who wants to play volleyball in her senior year and a 13-year-old swimmer who has presumably not yet competed in high school sports. Of the 75,000 students who play high school sports in Utah, four are transgender and one was a transgender girl, according to Cox and others.

In a press release Tuesday, Roe said:

“My last season playing volleyball was one of the best times of my life. I loved my teammates, felt part of something bigger than myself, and finally had a way to socialize with friends after being cooped up during the pandemic. This law devastated me. I just want to play on a team like any other kid.”

“I think Utah is in a unique place to do something unique and different from what the media and others say we are doing,” Birkeland said when the bill passed. “This bill is not something I ran for elections.”

On the day of the veto override, demonstrators on both sides of the issue were at the State Capitol.

Prior to the bill’s introduction, the Utah High School Activities Association rules required, in part, for athletes to “complete one year of hormone treatment related to the gender transition before competing on a girls team.”

Birkeland previously called the UHSAA rules flaws.

“It feels like an attack on our family,” the volleyball player’s mother said Tuesday. “Parents want their kids to be happy and to be surrounded by people who love and nurture them. This law does the opposite — it tells my daughter that she doesn’t belong and that she is unworthy of having the same opportunities as other students at her school.”

The mother of the 13-year-old swimmer was also quoted in the press release:

“As parents, we want our children to be healthy and happy. My husband and I love Utah and our children have benefited from living here. This law changes all of that and we are having serious conversations, for the first time, about whether we can stay here. It is deeply unsettling that the state would want to strip our child of the love and support she has received from her teammates, coaches, and entire sports community.”

The lawsuit says the law bans transgender girls from competing with other girls in every sport at all grade levels, regardless of each athlete’s circumstances.

“It cannot survive constitutional scrutiny and it endangers transgender children,” Christine Durham, former chief justice of the Utah Supreme Court, and senior counsel at Wilson Sonsini said Tuesday.

Transgender-specific laws are opposed by health care organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association.

“We must work to preserve the integrity of women’s sports and ensure it remains fair and safe for all,” Senate President J. Stuart Adams said in March when the bill’s veto was handed down by the governor. “While Gov. Cox and I disagree on this bill, I respect the legislative process. We have been listening to our constituents, talking with experts, and we feel it’s important to make decisions now that protect athletes and ensure women are not edged out of their sport.”

House Speaker Brad Wilson also spoke against the bill”

“Gov. Cox made his intention to veto the bill clear from the day it was passed so his action today was expected,” Wilson said. “Members of the Legislature, including the sponsor, have worked tirelessly for more than a year to find the best way to approach a complex issue and I anticipate that we will have sufficient votes to override the veto. Ultimately, the Legislature recognizes the value of girls athletics and our members want to ensure girls have the level playing field to compete that was created by Title IX.”

With his veto, Cox cited 86% of transgender youth experience suicidality and 56% of transgender youth attempt suicide.“Four kids and only one of them playing girls sports. That’s what all of this is about,” he said with his March veto.

The lawsuit contends HB11 violates multiple provisions of the Utah Constitution.

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Lawsuit filed to challenge Utah’s ban of trans athletes from playing girls high school sports