Utah’s Legislature has overridden Republican Gov. Spencer Cox’s veto of House Bill 11, which now mandates young transgender athletes can play only for teams based on their sex, not their gender identification.
Opponents of this type of legislation said it is another way to discriminate against young transgender people, and can have serious mental-health consequences.
Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, the bill’s sponsor, countered it safeguards opportunities for female athletes.
“There’s 24 activities under the High School Activity Association umbrella,” Birkeland noted. “Five of those are women’s activities. So, we’re only asking to keep five single-sex categories for women. That’s 19 other categories kids can participate in, from all different backgrounds.”
Utah is now one of at least 12 states limiting the participation of athletes based on their sex at birth. The legislation will likely now face lawsuits challenging its constitutionality before it takes effect July 1.
The bill was originally tasked with creating a commission to evaluate requests made by transgender athletes to compete based on their gender identity. A last-minute amendment went further, banning transgender girls from participating in sports alongside genetic or cisgender female athletes.
In his monthly address, Governor Cox spoke of the financial burden on Utah taxpayers if the Legislature took action against transgender athletes “at the last minute.”
“Everyone knows what’s going to happen, and that is, there will be a lawsuit,” Cox acknowledged. “And it will be a very expensive lawsuit. It is very likely that this bill will bankrupt the Utah High School Athletic Association. Those are their words, not mine.”
But Birkeland does not believe financial concerns outweigh the bill’s intent. She said coaching girls basketball informed her decision to sponsor it, and override the governor’s veto.
“I was officiating a basketball game, and there were some concerns brought to me by some parents,” Birkeland stated. “They were aware that there were transgender athletes competing in different sports around the state, and they wanted to know my thoughts and what would be done about it.”