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Families of transgender girls file lawsuit over Utah school sports ban

Posted at 7:49 PM, May 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-01 00:26:41-04

SALT LAKE CITY  — Two Utah families have filed a lawsuit over House Bill 11, which bans transgender girls from participating in girls' high school sports.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court, challenges the Utah State Legislature's maneuver on the last night of the 2022 session, where a compromise that created a pathway for transgender children to play sports consistent with their gender identity was overridden with an all-out ban.

The plaintiffs are two transgender girls and their families, identified in the legal complaint by pseudonyms:

  • Jenny Roe, a 16-year-old volleyball player
  • Jane Noe, a 13-year-old swimmer

They are represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, former Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Christine Durham and recently retired Utah Supreme Court Justice Deno Himonas.

"By singling out transgender girls for disfavored treatment, the Ban violates multiple provisions of the Utah Constitution. The law erroneously uses a student’s transgender status as a proxy for athletic ability and thus is overbroad, unjustifiably banning all transgender girls from competing on girls’ teams regardless of their individual circumstances or the sport in which they want to compete," the lawsuit states.

The families claim that the transgender sports ban "violates multiple provisions of the Utah Constitution."

“Being transgender is a sex-based characteristic, so this law discriminates based on sex,” said Shannon Minter with the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “That is going to be subject to some pretty strict review under the Utah constitution.”

The teens and their parents also say it takes away something important to them.

"My last season playing volleyball was one of the best times of my life. I loved my teammates, felt part of something bigger than myself, and finally had a way to socialize with friends after being cooped up during the pandemic," Jenny Roe said in a statement. "This law devastated me. I just want to play on a team like any other kid."

“To have the legislature come along and just tell them, ‘Oh, you don’t belong. You cannot play anymore. You can’t be on your team.’ I mean, imagine the impact of that,” Minter added.

The lawsuit names the Utah High School Activities Association, the Granite School District and its superintendent as defendants. Those parties are named because they would be tasked with enacting the newly-passed law. The litigation seeks to overturn Utah's ban on transgender athletes.

Lawmakers seemed to anticipate litigation. Under the bill the legislature passed on the last night of the 2022 session, if the law was struck down by the courts then a special commission would be created to determine an athlete's eligibility to play sports consistent with their gender identity. Governor Spencer Cox, who had negotiated some of the compromise with LGBTQ rights groups and lawmakers, supported the commission. When the ban passed, he vetoed it and the legislature overrode him in a special session.

In March, when the Utah State Legislature was overriding Gov. Spencer Cox's veto of the controversial bill, Senate President J. Stuart Adams told FOX 13 News 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," said Sen. Adams, R-Layton. "And I believe the commission will go into effect. I think it’s a good blend of policy."

Attorneys for the children told FOX 13 News they would seek a restraining order to block the law from going into effect on July 1, but would not seek to have the courts unwind the special commission.

In a statement late Tuesday, two senators who pushed for the ban insisted that "biological boys and girls are built differently."

"HB11 doesn’t prevent athletes from competing as they can still compete against their same biological gender. The intention of HB11 is to preserve women's sports and protect future athletic opportunities. If a court allows biological males to compete in female sports, HB11 puts Utah ahead of the curve by creating an unbiased, data-driven commission, continuing to protect female athletes," said Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, the original Senate sponsor of the bill.

Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, who enacted the ban in an amendment on the last night of the session, said in a statement he expected a lawsuit.

The ACLU of Utah said that only four transgender students have participated in sports and only one has been on a girl's team. The group said UHSAA "had not had any complaints from students, families, or school administrators."

Read the lawsuit here: