Utah creates panel to determine whether transgender athletes can play

The "School Activity Eligibility Commission", which would assess trans athletes' physical characteristics, and compare them to "baseline ranges", for their gender and age.

Utah creates panel to determine whether transgender athletes can play

Utah lawmakers approved Monday a proposal to establish a commission made up of political appointees that will make decisions regarding transgender youth athletes participating in youth sports. This is a continuation of the heated debate that has erupted in many Republican-led statehouses.

This idea is the latest effort by Utah Republicans in order to increase state oversight of youth sports. It follows stagnant efforts to pass an explicit ban. The LGBTQ rights movement has made other statehouse bans a touchstone, sparking legal battles.

Utah's School Activity Eligibility Commission proposal would establish criteria to evaluate the physical characteristics of transgender student-athletes and compare them with "baseline ranges".

The decisions of the committee would decide which transgender athletes are allowed to participate in youth sports that are gender-specific, although lawmakers have emphasized the possibility of transgender girls participating in leagues that reflect their gender identity.

"To those who think I'm only trampling on women’s sports or that this is a solution searching for a problem: All of my three daughters have played against transgender athletes. This is what's happening in our state," Kera Birkeland (Republican Rep.) said Monday.

Utah's efforts to regulate transgender student athletes in women's sport were halted last year due to concerns from the Republican Governor. Ryan Smith, Jazz owner and Spencer Cox, feared that passing a ban would jeopardize efforts in Utah to host big events such as the 2023 NBA All-Star Game.

Last year, the governors of South Dakota and North Dakota blocked bills that targeted transgender student athletes. This was in response to fears from athletic organizations. However, states that have passed bans have not faced boycotts as North Carolina when the NCAA/NBA relocated events due to a 2016 state law restricting the public toilets transgender people can use.

Governor of South Dakota Kristi Noem, South Dakota Governor, signed a ban on transgender women playing in women's sport at the youth and college levels.

Only three of the 85,000 Utah High School Activities Association student-athletes who have participated in Utah's sports supervision program for transgender athletes have been through the review process. Birkeland said Monday that she knew of many more, but didn't give any details.

Representatives from Utah schools oversee the association's evaluation of transgender student athletes and ensure that their gender identity is not "for the purpose of gaining unfair advantage." However, politicians in the Legislature argue the issue is a matter of public policy and should be managed by elected officials.

Last year, the Associated Press reached out to more than twenty states legislators in order to discuss similar youth sports legislation. discovered that it has only been an issue for a handful of high school athletes.

Birkeland, who is a coach for junior varsity basketball in Utah, stated Monday that she has spoken with many girls who feel it unfair for transgender athletes who have experienced the effects of male puberty, to be able to compete alongside them. She said that the girls would feel more at ease if they were informed that a panel responsible for determining eligibility was reviewing their eligibility.

Birkeland stated that approval by the commission could give legitimacy to transgender athletes who feel they are being targeted. Jennifer Plumb, University of Utah pediatrician, stated that her child is transgender. However, special scrutiny could make transgender children feel more isolated.

Plumb stated, "When we start discussing these 'Verify you're girl sufficient, or verify you're enough (policies), these kiddos shake in their proverbial boots."

Monday's 6-3 vote saw the proposed commission pass through a legislative panel with Republicans supporting and Democrats against.

The new commission will be made up of physicians, statisticians, and athletes trainers if the bill is passed. The panel of experts -- all appointed by Cox and leaders of Utah's Republican-supermajority Legislature -- would create criteria for participation and evaluate individual cases based on provided medical information about gender transition, including hormone treatments.

Utah requires that all high school and grade-school students upload their birth certificates. Transgender students applying to take part in "gender-designated intrascholastic activities" that don't match the sex on their birth certificates would be sent to this commission.

However, transgender student-athletes and others can apply to change or amend their birth certificates. Birkeland admitted that basing commission criteria upon birth certificates is a loophole in her proposal.

Lobbyists in red states such as Utah who are opposed to the establishment of new state laws governing transgender athletes participating in youth sports continue to discuss the matter with legislators, rather than opposing the proposal outright.

Troy Williams, executive director at Equality Utah, stated that "We don't believe it is necessary to identify the physical characteristics that are considered by the commission to decide whether an individual teenager can play a certain sport."


 

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