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Utah faces lawsuits, potential boycotts over transgender sports bill override

Utah Senate
Posted at 4:12 PM, Mar 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-25 16:15:51-04

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State Legislature is set to override Governor Spencer Cox's veto of the bill banning transgender children from playing school sports.

On Thursday, Senate President J. Stuart Adams said he believes both chambers now have secured enough votes to override the governor's veto. FOX 13 News first reported earlier this week the legislature was planning an override.

House Bill 11 bans transgender children from playing sports in Utah middle and high schools. Originally, the bill proposed a special commission to evaluate transgender children to determine eligibility. That was a version favored by Gov. Cox, who was involved in negotiations over it. The bill was expected to be amended to appease LGBTQ rights groups but on the last night of the session, a floor amendment was introduced that implemented a ban. The special commission was reserved as a backup option in the event Utah loses a lawsuit.

In his interview with FOX 13 News, the Senate President said he believed Utah would be sued and would likely lose that legal challenge.

"I actually, again, believe there’s a high probability the state will be enjoined or stayed," Sen. Adams, R-Layton, said. "And I believe the commission will go into effect. I think it’s a good blend of policy."

Gov. Cox vetoed the bill, in part because of inevitable lawsuits and a lack of indemnification for local school districts that could face millions in legal fees. He also expressed his concerns for already vulnerable transgender children. Currently there are only four transgender student athletes playing sports out of 75,000 student athletes statewide.

Since the veto, Gov. Cox has faced criticism from social conservative groups across the state and the nation. Many Republican legislators, headed into tough re-election challenges, have been lobbied heavily by GOP delegates to flip their votes to favor the ban.

The Democratic mayors of Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County worry the veto override could cost Utah a lot more than political points.

"I don’t really see a big question mark about whether or not those repercussions will happen, it’s a matter of which ones," Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall told FOX 13 News.

An analysis done by Visit Salt Lake for Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson's office and shared with FOX 13 News estimated at least $50 million in economic impact from sports games, conventions and other events could be lost as a result of a boycott over the transgender sports bill. Specific events were not disclosed, but the NBA has said it is speaking with the Utah Jazz about next year's NBA All-Star Game. Utah is also vying for a future Olympics and NCAA tournaments.

"It impacts our youth very directly and progress that I think we’ve made," Mayor Wilson told FOX 13 News. "But I also think we’re sending a really bad signal to the world of who we really are when we take those hard lines that are hurtful."

Sen. Adams said he did not expect any boycotts of Utah as a result of the veto override, pointing out that 11 other states have instituted bans.

"I haven’t seen any boycotts or bans in 11 other states. I think those involved in those sporting events understand the significance of trying to protect women’s sports," he said.

Lawmakers are getting hit with emails and calls for and against the bill. FOX 13 News is told some lawmakers will be introducing substitutes and floor amendments when the special session gets under way on Friday, including efforts to delay implementation of the ban. The special session will run House Bill 3001, which will provide legal protections for school districts.

The legislature's many bills dealing with transgender issues has prompted one community activist to run for office.

"I want to see a trans person on the Hill. If not me, then somebody else," said Sophia Hawes-Tingey, a transgender woman who is running as a Democrat to represent a portion of West Valley City in the House of Representatives.

Hawes-Tingey told FOX 13 News she believes HB11 invalidates trans children and she was tired of seeing anti-trans bills introduced every year.

"I think we just need a fundamental change on the Hill with regards to how we treat bills that are impacting people and make sure those people... actually are heard," she said. "No matter the issue."

Hawes-Tingey said voters in her district care about a lot of issues from health care to prison reform, but they do have concerns about the bill.

"Most of the time it’s not about HB11, but I have been hearing more and more frequently about what’s going on and they’re upset about what’s happening on the Hill with regards to trans students," she said.

Her opponents in the race for the Democratic nomination shared those concerns.

"I may not know what our trans students are going through exactly, but as a refugee I know what it means to feel alone and isolated. With only 4 out of 75,000 high school athletes identifying as trans, this isn’t just a misguided attack on kids just trying to get by, this is an assault on the LGBTQ+ community," Fatima Dirie told FOX 13 News. "The veto override of HB11 is a nonsensical solution to a fabricated problem. I proudly stand with our trans youth and families – we see you, we hear you, and we love you."

Jana Roundy Nordfelt said she viewed it from the perspective of a mother of five children.

"It is absolutely and completely wrong to be excluded. I stand for children in this community and what is best for their future. I can’t see anything good coming from this tribunal that they are being thrown in," she said of transgender children. "What is most important, the child or the sport? I say the child is."

The three are seeking the Democratic nomination for a House seat in a swing district currently held by Republican Rep. Judy Weeks Rohner, who voted in support of HB11.