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Judge grants injunction blocking transgender sports law

Posted at 9:01 AM, Aug 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-19 19:09:07-04

SALT LAKE CITY  — A judge has granted a preliminary injunction blocking Utah's ban on transgender girls playing school sports from going into effect.

In an order issued Friday morning, 3rd District Court Judge Keith Kelly granted a request by plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging Utah's new law to block it from being enforced. In his ruling, the judge said the law included a ban but also a trigger clause that creates a special commission to evaluate a transgender athlete's eligibility to play school sports matching their gender identity should the ban be struck down.

"Thus, the effect of this preliminary injunction will not mean that transgender girls will automatically be eligible to compete on their school’s girls’ teams. Rather, it will allow them to compete only upon the commission’s determination that their being able to compete is fair under all of the circumstances," he wrote.

Utah law allows transgender minors to legally change their gender marker and the girls in question are undergoing the transition process, Judge Kelly said.

"Both a plain reading of the Ban and relevant case law demonstrate that the legislation classifies individuals based on transgender status and, therefore, on sex. The bill discriminates against transgender girls by providing that for purposes of school sports, a student’s sex is based on an 'individual’s genetics and anatomy at birth,'" he wrote.

Three transgender girls and their families are suing the Utah High School Activities Association and the Granite and Jordan school districts, challenging the law the state legislature passed earlier this year. They claim it is unconstitutional and discriminatory. In his ruling, the judge suggested they may have a viable challenge.

"This is a sex-based classification. By definition, a transgender person is one whose sex differs from that listed on the person’s original birth certificate, which is based on their anatomy at birth. The United States Supreme Court has explained that “it is impossible to discriminate against a person for being . . . transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex," Judge Kelly said.

The effect of the ruling means the girls can seek to play sports this fall while the case plays out in the courts.

"The girls and their families are hugely relieved by this decision. They are grateful the court understood how much harm this law has caused, and that it goes too far. These girls just want the same chance as other kids to make friends and fit in. They don’t want to be in the spotlight, they just want to be kids," Shannon Minter, one of the girls' attorneys, said in a text message to FOX 13 News.

Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, who sponsored the original HB11, said the commission still assures fairness in girls' sports.

"From the beginning, my intention has been to protect and preserve girls sports. Although the judge did not rule in our favor, female athletes can still be assured they can compete fairly as we will soon have a commission in place," she said in a statement to FOX 13 News released through the Utah House of Representatives. "For every girl who is feeling unseen or unheard right now — I hear you. Be proud of the body you were given and it’s abilities. You are fierce and amazing just as you are."

Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, who introduced the ban on the final night of the legislature, said the commission is fair.

"Female athletes should not have to worry that they will be eliminated from future athletic opportunities because of biological differences. Though the court chose to stay the ban, I believe the commission will help protect female athletes and allow transgender students to play without creating a competitive disadvantage," he said in a statement.

The Utah Attorney General's Office, which is defending the law, did not immediately have a comment nor an answer on whether it would seek an emergency appeal with the Utah Supreme Court.

Read the judge's ruling here: