SALT LAKE CITY — After a sometimes heated debate, the Utah House of Representatives passed a bill that prohibits transgender girls from participating in junior high and high school sports.
The House voted 50-23 in support of House Bill 302, sponsored by Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan.
"Women’s sports matter in Utah. They matter to me and they matter to every parent of young girls and they matter to every athlete out there trying their best," she said as she presented her bill on the House floor.
Rep. Birkeland's bill designates school sports by gender and specifically prohibits a student of the "male sex" from participating in a sport designated for female students. The bill has already been amended to carve out college athletics and offer some indemnification to school districts in the event of a lawsuit.
"Co-ed sports are harmful to our female athletes," she said, arguing that her bill is about fairness in athletics.
The bill has faced opposition from LGBTQ rights groups who said it specifically targets transgender girls and warn that Utah will be sued and lose if the bill passes the full legislature and is signed into law by Governor Spencer Cox. Silicon Slopes Commons, which represents Utah's growing tech industry, has also said it opposes the bill.
House Democrats stood in opposition to the bill, pointing to a high youth suicide rate among transgender people and warning Utah could potentially lose NCAA tournaments and another chance to host the Winter Olympics because those groups have anti-discrimination policies.
Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, said the bill harms vulnerable children.
"Why does anybody want to be on a team? Because they want to feel included. They want to feel like they belong," she said.
Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City, said bluntly: "This bill is cruel, heavy-handed and, quite honestly, is lazy policy."
But supporters of HB302 insist it is about fairness for girls in sports and dismissed claims of economic harm to the state.
"We’ve heard economic concerns that are purely speculative. Our response should be to do what is right instead of what is profitable," said Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville.
House Majority Leader Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, acknowledged Idaho has been sued over a similar bill but said Utah should not stand back and wait to see what happens.
"Do I have to wait for other states to somehow be challenged in court or to make a decision to lead out on something?" he asked his colleagues.
The bill will now go to the Utah State Senate for consideration.
In a statement, Transgender Education Advocates of Utah criticized the bill and urged its defeat.
"This is not academic, and openly debating the humanity of children has consequences. Transgender, intersex, and gender nonconforming youth already face discrimination and bullying at nearly every level and are at greater risk to drop out of school or self-harm," Dr. Candice Metzler, the group's executive director, said.
"This bill politicizes a non-issue by misconstruing basic facts: There are no trans youth competing in UHSAA events at any level, and a current policy exists. The NCAA and Olympic-level sport have inclusive policies in place, and there is simply no evidence whatsoever that transgender athletes dominate sport at either level."