SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Transgender girls in Utah will be given the opportunity to participate in female sports as the school year begins after a judge on Friday reversed a ban pending legal challenges from parents.
Instead of an outright ban, transgender girls will now go before a state commission of political appointees who will determine on a case-by-case basis if they are eligible to participate. Utah’s Republican lawmakers created the commission in a law passed earlier this as a fallback plan to be implemented in case of an injunction against the law.
Under terms of the law, the panel will be allowed to ask for and assess the child’s height and weight in making decisions, about whether a transgender girl would have an unfair advantage. The commission, which is set to be convened in the coming weeks, will include a medical data statistician, a physician with experience about gender identity healthcare, a sports physiologist, mental health professional, collegiate athletic trainer, representative of an athletic association and a rotating member who is a coach or official in the sport relevant to each case.
Utah’s ruling marked the latest court development in a nationwide debate over how to navigate a flashpoint issue.
At least 12 Republican-led states — including Utah — have passed laws banning transgender women or girls in sports based on the premise it gives them an unfair competitive advantage. Transgender rights advocates counter that the rules aren’t just about sports, but another way to demean and attack transgender youth. Similar cases are underway in states such as Idaho, West Virginia and Indiana.
Utah’s ban took effect in July after the state’s Republican Legislature overrode a veto by Gov. Spencer Cox, also a Republican.
Utah state Judge Keith Kelly said in the ruling that attorneys representing the families of three transgender student-athletes who filed the lawsuit have shown they’ve suffered significant distress by “singling them out for unfavorable treatment as transgender girls.”
The transgender girls and the parents filed the lawsuit last May, contending it violates the Utah Constitution’s guarantees of equal rights and due process.
The ruling was thrilling news to the girls and their families, said Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
“The pressure, the strain this was putting them under was so enormous,” Minter said. “It is just a huge relief to have that weight lifted.”
Utah state Sen. Stuart Adams, a Republican, said in a statement Friday that the commission that will now make decisions in a way “to protect equitable and safe competition while preserving the integrity of women’s sports.”
Minter said he is hopeful the commission will make fair decisions, keep the process confidential and become a good solution. He hopes the commission will act merely as a safety net, with the presumption being that transgender girls can play unless there is an obvious issue of competitive fairness.
“How it is done is very important,” Minter said.
The ruling follows a revelation this week by the Utah High School Activities Association that it secretly investigated a female athlete — without telling her or her parents — after receiving complaints from the parents of two girls she had defeated in competition questioning whether the girl was transgender. The association and the girl’s high school determined she indeed was female after poring through her school records dating back to kindergarten, association spokesman David Spatafore told lawmakers this week. He said that the girl and her family weren’t told of the investigation to spare them embarrassment and “to keep the matter private,” the Salt Lake Tribune reported.
Gov. Cox said Thursday at his monthly news conference that the parents’ complaint about the girl who was investigated had crossed a line.
“My goodness, we’re living in this world where we’ve become sore losers, and we’re looking for any reason why our kid lost,” he said. He said he supports fairness in sports but that “making up allegations like that are pretty disturbing to me.”
Spatafore declined to reveal the student’s grade, school or sport to protect her identity. He said the student and her family were not told about the investigation because it might be offensive to them and that the parents would have been contacted “if needed.”
Spatafore also said the association has looked into other complaints involving transgender athletes in its efforts to comply with the Utah law, which went into effect in July. Some complaints include “when an athlete doesn’t look feminine enough,” he said. None of the complaints have been verified.
Before the ban, Utah had one registered transgender female athlete competing last year on a high school girls’ team, Spatafore said.