Transgender bathroom access reversed in second major bill change by Utah Senate

Jan 25, 2024, 7:00 PM | Updated: Jan 26, 2024, 11:27 am

SALT LAKE CITY — For the second day in a row, a major change was made to a bill dealing with transgender bathroom access and privacy spaces. This time, reversing a key provision that allowed people to use the bathroom in government-owned and operated facility of the sex which they identify rather than their sex at birth.

The new version defines that men’s bathrooms are for males, and women’s are for females. It defines men and women in state code according to the organs they possess. It does not assign any penalties for those who enter a bathroom that doesn’t match their sex, unless they commit a crime like lewdness, voyeurism or trespassing.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Dan McCay, R-Salt Lake City, explained that the earlier version stripping out the sex-based distinction for bathrooms was moved through quickly and that provision shouldn’t have been taken out.

“Yesterday the (substitution) came out, I think, you know, 20 minutes into floor time what we were drafting, and we were trying to do our best on a short timeline. I had about two hours of sleep. And so, if you’ll forgive my absent-minded, I missed a few things. And I’m really grateful for the 24-hour process to go through and do another review. And that’s what we did. We got it back to what the principle was,” McCay told reporters Thursday.

But a day earlier, McCay was championing the move to strip out that sex designation for bathrooms, saying it helped the bill focus on the “behavior” and calling that “the most important part of the bill.”

“It was never intended to be OK for anybody to use every bathroom. And that’s why we put signs on the outside saying men’s and women’s,” he said. “We made sure that at the end of the day, the policy matches what we intended, and that’s why we have the bill right.”

The restrictions apply to more than just public bathrooms, they are also in place for locker rooms and K-12 school bathrooms unless someone has fully transitioned. It requires a school to have a “privacy plan” for kids who may face bullying. It also focuses on building more single-occupancy facilities in new buildings.

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The bill also pushes for building more unisex spaces, and it strengthens penalties for those who commit crimes like lewdness or voyeurism, especially in a bathroom of the opposite sex.

The bill only applies to government buildings, not private businesses.

It also strengthens definitions for Title IX provisions in state code to ensure boys and girls have equal access to facilities and athletic opportunities.

Wearing all black

Democrats were not happy with the reversal of the key provision. They dressed in all black as a visual reminder of the “hurt” for the communities this bill impacts. They’re calling on the Gov. Spencer Cox to veto it.

“There was an expectation to at least have certain protections. Those now are clearly removed. And, you know, we’re expecting legal force to take place. And I know some groups are already planning to, you know, proceed through the additional judicial process,” said Senate Minority Leader Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City.

“You see it time and time again. With policy up here, we’re erasing people of color, we’re erasing LGBTQ members, we’re erasing our stories, our narratives. And we, as House Democrats, are saying enough is enough,” added House Minority Leader Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City.

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Earlier during the Senate Floor debate, McCay read a list of dozens of examples from around the country where men had sexually assaulted or raped women in women’s bathrooms.

“I have four daughters, I’m tired of it,” he said.

Democrats like Sen. Jen Plumb, D-Salt Lake City, and even one Republican, Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-Salt Lake City, tried to propose changes that were all rejected.

Plumb, who has a transgender child, got emotional as she stood to speak.

“I feel like I have failed my child, I feel like I have failed other children,” she said. “And I feel like I have somehow failed to make sure we separated out perverts and pedophiles and the disgusting folks who do things to our kiddos…are not the same as our trans community,” she said.

“We need to be very certain to work very hard to keep that distinction alive,” she added.

Ultimately, all the Democrat senators and two Republicans, Thatcher and Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, voted against the bill. But it was not enough to stop the bill from passing 21-8.

It now heads back to the House to approve the changes.

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Transgender bathroom access reversed in second major bill change by Utah Senate