Bill banning trans athletes in girls sports advances in Utah

Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, talks about her bill HB302 at a House Education Committee meeting at the State Office Building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. The bill would bar transgender athletes at public schools to participate in girls sports. (Kristin Murphy/The Deseret News via AP)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Transgender athletes would be barred from playing on girls’ sports teams under a bill that advanced Thursday in Utah, one of more than a dozen states considering similar measures that opponents say would harm trans teenagers.

The lawmaker sponsoring the measure, Republican Rep. Kera Birkeland, said it would ensure fairness in women’s sports by making sure female athletes aren’t competing against those identified as male at birth.

Opponents, though, say it would discriminate against students who are told they can’t play with their peers.

Troy Williams, Equality Utah executive director, speaks in opposition of HB302 during a House Education Committee meeting at the State Office Building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. The bill would bar transgender athletes at public schools to participate in girls sports. (Kristin Murphy/The Deseret News via AP)

“I don’t believe that the representative’s intent is to harm transgender students, but the impact most definitely will,” said Troy Williams with Equality Utah, the Deseret News reported.

Birkeland, a girls’ basketball coach, responded that her bill isn’t aimed at excluding teenagers from sports.

“But we have to weigh that against what is fair for our female athletes,” she said, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. She did not cite any cases of transgender girls trying to play sports in Utah, saying a small number of students have considered playing but chose not to.

The bill was approved by a panel of lawmakers Thursday and now advances to the House floor. Similar bills have also advanced in states like Tennessee and Montana.

Utah is one of more than a dozen states considering similar bills this year. Idaho was the only state to pass a similar law last year, but it has been blocked in federal court as a lawsuit plays out.

A legislative attorney gave neutral testimony explaining the bill may be declared unconstitutional if passed into law. The bill would not block male transgender teens from playing boys’ sports. It would not apply to college sports.

The measure also runs counter to an executive order signed by Democratic President Joe Biden during his first day in office prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity in school sports and elsewhere.

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