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Wasatch Back Lawmaker's Bill Targets How Transgender Students Can Participate In Sports

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KPCW News
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Summit County Republican Rep. Kera Birkeland has filed a bill that would ban transgender girls from playing on women’s sports teams, in schools, local education agencies and higher education institutions.

In an interview with KPCW last week, Birkeland said the purpose of her bill is to create a safe space for cisgender female students - meaning students who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.

“I do have a bill that is aimed to ensure that women's sports are fair,” she said. “For years I've watched as women's sports are kind of shoved in the corner in our state. I will work hard while I’m in the legislature to ensure that we have a fairness and that women feel like they have a place be - that as their own place where they have the opportunity to thrive and not constantly be shut down.”

Troy Williams is the Executive Director of Equality Utah - an LGBTQ civil rights organization. He said by excluding transgender students, they could miss out on a sort of rite of passage.  

“We all want girls sports to thrive,” Williams said. “We know that kids learn a lot of important lessons in sports, sportsmanship, leadership, competence, self discipline, self respect, and what it means to be part of a team. And when we tell a transgender girl, they can't play girl’s sport or a transgender boy, that they can't play boys sports, they all miss out on the important childhood experiences and all the lessons that it teaches.”

How many transgender students would be affected by Birkeland’s bill? 

Williams said probably none. 

“I've been looking all over the state trying to identify transgender girl athletes,” he said. “I haven't found any yet. Because they're all hanging out in the theater department. But that's not to say that, of course, that there aren't or that there won't be in the future.”

Even if there aren’t any students directly affected by the bill, Williams said it still sends a harmful message to transgender students.  

“So the stigma of society, the sense of exclusion and isolation...those are what drives the risk factors for suicide and drug abuse, etc.” he said. “So we want to create cultures that are welcoming and belonging, we want to make sure that LGBT kids know that they are loved, they have a space that they are included. That's why policies that deny them access to medical care, or even just deny them access to participate in sports, really sends a harmful damaging message to the young people that you don't belong.”

On his first day in office, President Joe Biden passed an executive order banning any discrimination of members of the LGBTQ community. 

Despite this order, Birkeland said Utah should be able to make its own decisions. 

“I believe that the representatives in Utah know best. Our athletes here in Utah need local representation, not national representation,” Birkeland said.

A similar bill was passed in the Idaho legislature last year and was later blocked by a federal judge. 

The NCAA requires hormone therapy for at least one year before transgender women can compete on a female team. Williams said schools in Utah have adopted a similar rule and have yet to see any issues with it. 

Williams said he’s talked with Birkeland and will continue to have “difficult conversations” to find a solution.

 

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