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After transgender ban, Utah sports group gets complaints some girls aren't 'feminine enough'

Posted at 3:52 PM, Aug 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-18 18:07:34-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's organization that oversees high school athletics has fielded complaints from parents that some girls don't look "feminine enough," suggesting they may be transgender.

The Utah High School Activities Association disclosed it even launched an investigation after the parents of two girls — who took second and third place in a competition last year — complained the first place winner may not be a biological girl.

David Spatafore, the UHSAA's legislative liason, told the Utah State Legislature's Education Interim Committee on Wednesday that the first place winner "outclassed" the other girls. It spawned a complaint that was filed the day of the competition. For privacy reasons, he would not name anyone involved, their schools, nor the sport they were competing in.

"The school checked their records. They said based on our records there isn’t a question," he said. "Then together we asked and the school asked them to check their feeder schools to double-check to see as far back as the records of the students would go and see if she was always female. The school went back to kindergarten and she’d always been a female."

Spatafore insisted the UHSAA takes every complaint seriously and there was no disruption to any of the student athletes, who weren't even aware of an investigation. He was testifying as to how the organization, which oversees sports for more than 75,000 student athletes statewide, is administering a new law banning transgender girls from playing school sports matching their gender identity.

Lawmakers had requested an update on the rollout of the ban and subsequent litigation. Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, who sponsored the bill, complained the student athlete enrollment website was not explicitly stating the ban is in place.

"They can go through the whole process and still register the rest of the way as if they can play. Even under state law they can’t play as the law stands today," she said.

LGBTQ rights groups that opposed the transgender sports ban warned in committee hearings that they feared some girls might be targeted. Reacting to the UHSAA investigation, Governor Spencer Cox on Thursday called for a "step back and some grace."

"My goodness, we’re living in this world where we’ve become sore losers and we’re looking for any reason to figure out why our kid lost. I have a real problem with that story," he told reporters at his monthly news conference. "I don’t know all the details other than what was shared there, I just wish we could be a little more thoughtful in life and a little less critical of other people. I appreciate that there has to be fairness in the rules and the way we administer the rules, but making allegations like that are a little disturbing to me."

To date, only four transgender children have sought to play school sports in Utah. The ban specifically excludes transgender girls from playing sports that match their gender identity. Three transgender girls and their families are suing UHSAA and two school districts over the ban, which they argue is discriminatory and unconstitutional.

A judge could rule any day now on a request for a preliminary injunction, blocking the law from being enforced. He previously rejected a request by the Utah Attorney General's Office to dismiss the lawsuit.

If the law is blocked, there is a trigger clause that creates a special commission to determine a transgender athlete's eligibility. Prior to the law change, UHSAA had a policy that required transgender children to be on transition-related hormone therapy for at least a year before seeking to play sports.