Utah Becomes Latest State to Ban Transgender Athletes From Girls’ Sports

Photo by leah hetteberg on Unsplash

Deeply socially conservative Utah has become the latest state to ban transgender athletes from girls’ sports, right on the heels of the passage of similar legislation in Arizona.

Transgender athletes has become one of the biggest socially conservative policy platform points ahead of the November midterm election and 2021 was a record year for transgender legislation in state legislative bodies across the country.

Utah’s Republican lawmakers managed to garner enough support for their bill restricting youth girls’ sports to female athletes despite a veto from Republican Governor Spencer Cox.

The Associated Press reported that “Before the veto, the ban received support from a majority of Utah lawmakers, but fell short of the two-thirds needed to override it. Its sponsors on Friday flipped 10 Republicans in the House and five in the Senate who had previously voted against the proposal.”

While some Republicans stood with Cox, the issue of transgender athletes in women’s and girls’ sports has undoubtedly captured the attention of a majority of conservative lawmakers and states.

Utah has joined dozens of other states that have passed similar legislation since last year.

“You start these fights and inject them into politics,” Terry Schilling, president of the American Principles Project, explained to the Associated Press. “You pass them in a few states and it starts to take on a life of its own and becomes organic. We helped start this fight and we’re helping carry it through, but a lot of this is coming from the local level.”

At issue with Utah’s prospective ban was whether the state might experience economic blowback in the form of corporate boycotts, as has often been a factor in other states’ efforts to limit women’s and girls’ sports to female athletes, such as North Dakota and North Carolina.

“I hope the NBA and other groups understand that our intent here is to protect women sports and keep women’s sports safe and competitive. And if they have thoughts on how best to do that, we’d be happy to chat with them,” Utah Republican House Speaker Brad Wilson said of the possibility.

Rep. Kera Birkeland, who sponsored the bill and was a youth athlete herself, said that while it is understandable why many oppose such legislation for the sake of protecting transgender athletes, of which there is just one in youth sports in Utah, that her conversations with female athletes is what motivated her to pursue action to protect their teams.

“When we say, ‘This isn’t a problem in our state,’ what we say to those girls is, ‘Sit down, be quiet and make nice,’” she said.

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