A bill banning transgender girls from playing on women’s sports teams in Utah was making headlines throughout the legislative session before it died in a Senate committee meeting.
Utah was one of many state this year to introduce legislation barring transgender atheletes from playing on schools sports teams. Summit County Rep. Kera Birkeland sponsored Utah’s bill.
While there are no known cases of any transgender girls playing sports in schools in Utah right now, Birkeland says she’s worried that there could be future lawsuits against the state.
"Do we wait until there's a transgender girl who comes in and wins a scholarship to go 'Oh, shoot, we should have done something about that,'" Birkeland said. "And now the the parents of the cisgender girls are filing lawsuits. Or by sitting and waiting and not having a good plan in place, I feel like we actually will do more damage going forward to both the transgender kids and the cisgender kids."
Sue Robbins is on the Transgender Advisory Council at Equality Utah. She said the bill is preparing for a scenario that doesn’t exist.
"This bill came in with a premise that a whole bunch of transgender girls are going to start playing in sports and take away scholarships and take away opportunity for girls," Robbins said. "And we have years to show that that is not true. 2021 isn't a magical year where all of a sudden, it's going to happen when it hasn't happened before."
Birkeland said she worked with the LGBTQ community, including Equality Utah to try to find common ground on the bill.
"I've got to be honest, though, their ultimate compromise is saying transgirls play on the girls’ team period," Birkeland said. "And there's got to be give and take, there's got to be more than that."
But Robbins said there’s a lot more work to be done before the LGBTQ community can even think about a “compromise.”
"I feel like we need to get away from the fear mongering," Robbins said. "And we need to sit down and have talks about what the reality is, until we can do that we will always be on opposed sides. And it will make it difficult to come to an understanding. And I'll get away from the word compromise, because that carries so much weight. We don't even have an understanding right now. So it's hard to move forward without that."
While the bill barreled through the House, it was ultimately tabled at a Senate committee meeting. Birkeland said she’s not completely sure why the bill died.
"I can't speak for how all the committee members felt, I did talk to a few of them," she said. "And they had expressed support of the bill, but just felt like maybe there needs to be more time, more community discussion to explain the overall intent and opportunities that are otherwise there for these kids."
During a press conference, Utah Governor Spencer Cox threatened to veto the bill, which could be a reason why it never made it out of committee.
Birkeland said going forward the state should continue to have conversations about strengthening youth sports programs.
"The most important thing is I think there's a lot of misconception about high school sports," she said. "The biggest thing I constantly heard was a transgender girl isn't comfortable playing on the boys team. And I said, I completely understand that. Because I can tell you right now, there's a lot of cisgender girls who are extremely uncomfortable playing on the boys team, if they want to play baseball, if they want to play football, there's a lot of times that girls cisgender or transgender, they have no other choice, but to play on a boys team."
Robbins said although the bill wasn’t passed, even introducing it has lasting negative impacts on transgender children.