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Utah House committee forwards controversial transgender sports bill

Track Athlete.jpg
Posted at 4:36 PM, Feb 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-12 09:48:27-05

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers moved a bill forward Thursday that would ban transgender girls from playing in female sports at public schools. A committee voted 8-6 to move the bill to the House floor.

For most of the day, the House Education committee listened to emotional testimony for and against HB302.

READ: Romney speaks against allowing transgender youth in girls’ sports

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Kera Birkeland (R-Morgan), is also a basketball coach for the JV Girls team at Morgan High.

“Title IX became law, thus allowing women an equal seat at the sports table,” said Birkeland.

Birkeland argued her bill would level the playing field where women wouldn’t be spectators in their own sports.

Southern Utah University track athlete Haley Tanne testified in front of the committee in support of the bill.

“This isn’t just about losing a competition, a title, or medal. This is about women losing years of hard work, even to some extent a piece of their identity.”

Tanne added that the bill would put her at a disadvantage.

“The first time I raced against a biological male, I remember just feeling bizarre," said Tanne. "It felt like I just was running with a giant.”

Idaho Rep. Barbara Ehardt, who sponsored a similar bill in her home state, joined Tanne in testifying.

“So we are free to make our choices we are not free to choose the consequences and those want to be chosen for us,” said Ehardt.

While the bill has many supporters, opponents of the proposed legislation urged lawmakers to kill the bill.

“No where does it say anything about the trans male competing," said Josie Jones, a transgender woman and advocate. "This is a discriminatory bill.”

Members of the LGTBQ community, including the parent of a transgender youth, and public health advocates say transgender youth already feel isolated and this bill would do further harm.

Others who oppose HB302 argued the bill could do potential damage to the state's economy and tourism.

An even bigger concern is litigation as schools could face lawsuits if they don’t comply with the ban.

“The title of this bill is preserving women in sports. I think it should be called the lawyer protection act,” said Marina Lowe, legislative and policy counsel for ACLU of Utah.

Birkeland says litigation will be coming, “we just need to make sure that we are protecting people before we worry about litigation.”

Somewhere in the middle, Senate President J. Stuart Adams (R-Layton) called for balance.

“There is somewhat of a difference I think between men and women when it comes to sports," said Adams. "I’ll have to read the bill and make sure what it does.”