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Utah transgender athletics bill likely dead after stalling in committee

Posted at 8:47 PM, Feb 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-24 23:47:35-05

SALT LAKE CITY — Legislation that would ban transgender girls from competing in high school sports is likely dead after the bill stalled in a Senate committee, Wednesday.

H.B. 302, sponsored by Rep. Kera Birkeland (R-Morgan), was substituted earlier in the day.

Read: Utah transgender bill amended to allow team participation

The amended version added that the bill, “prohibits a student of the male sex from competing against another school on a team designated for female students.”

The new language essentially would allow transgender girls to join athletic teams but would not allow them to compete in games, matches or meets.

Rep. Birkeland argued to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee that the bill is about creating a level playing field.

“Women are loving and accepting,” she said. “All we are asking for, the only thing we want is fairness when we compete in sports.”

But several senators voiced concerns as soon as the hearing began.

“I don’t know. I hate your bill. I’m sorry,” said Sen. Jacob Anderegg (R-Lehi). “I have people I know who are trans – family members, friends of mine who I desperately love. And yet, I have this biological understanding of human development that throws that into stark contrast and I don’t know how to reconcile the two.”

The bill drew so much attention, the committee room along with two overflow rooms were filled with many people waiting to address the committee. Most spoke in opposition.

One trans woman said, “Make sure that we remember that trans girls are girls.”

A representative for Silicon Slopes added, “It makes it really hard to protect Utah’s reputation on a national and international stage when we propose divisive legislation like this.”

Another citizen said, “As a former athlete I am insulted by the message this bill sends that a trophy is more important than a person.”

Conservative activist Gayle Ruzicka of the Utah Eagle Forum spoke in support of the bill.

“Science and common sense tells us males are generally bigger and faster and stronger than females,” she said to the committee.

After dozens of public comments, several senators raised concerns about the constitutionality of the bill and possible lawsuits.

Senators declined to vote on the bill.

The hearing was then adjourned without a vote to move the legislation forward.

Read: Cox threatens veto of bills on transgender youth

With just seven days to go in this legislative session, this bill is likely dead.

Activists for trans youth say this is a win.

“I am happy for our kids. It’s tough for kids to be excluded. It’s hard for transgender youth already because they have to go through hate and separation,” said Sue Robbins of Equality Utah. “For us to put more of that on them is unthinkable to me. Tonight, we are more inclusive. We are a state that supports transgender youth.”

The result is a surprise after the bill passed in the House by a 50-23 margin.

In a statement, Rep. Birkeland said, “While disappointed the Senate committee did not advance H.B. 302, I also trust in the legislative process. This is a complex and sensitive issue and I appreciate the robust discussions I had with a broad group of stakeholders, colleagues, and constituents, and I thank all those who voiced their opinions. I will continue to stand up and speak out for past, current, and future female athletes fighting for the opportunity to compete fairly. I am optimistic we can continue to work together to create policies that preserve female sports.”