SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Transgender girls in Utah will be given the opportunity to participate in girls’ sports from the start of the school year, after a judge on Friday overturned a ban pending legal objections from parents.
Instead of an outright ban, transgender girls are now sent before a committee that will determine on a case-by-case basis whether their participation jeopardizes fairness. Utah’s Republican lawmakers created the committee in a law passed earlier this year as a fallback plan to be implemented in the event of a ban on the law.
By law, the panel may request and assess the child’s height and weight when making decisions about whether a transgender girl would have an unfair advantage.
The committee, to be convened in the coming weeks, will include politically appointed experts from athletics and medicine.
When the commission was proposed, the commission was criticized by proponents of transgender student athletes — who feared they would feel attacked if their bodies were measured — and proponents of an outright ban, who argued it didn’t go far enough.
The commission will go into effect while the court weighs the legal challenge of the outright ban. Members have not yet been named, but will be appointed in the coming weeks, legislative leaders said.
The state association that oversees more than 80,000 students who play sports in high school has said only one transgender girl entered their competitions last year and, with school sports already underway, it’s unclear how many will go before the committee. and when its decisions take effect.
Utah’s ruling marked the court’s latest development in a nationwide debate over how to deal with the flash point problem.
At least 12 Republican-led states — including Utah — have passed laws banning transgender women or girls in sport based on the premise that it gives them an unfair competitive advantage.
Proponents of transgender rights against the rules are not just about sports, but also about another way to humiliate and attack transgender youth. Similar cases are underway in states like Idaho, West Virginia and Indiana.
Utah’s ban went into effect in July after the Republican legislature overturned a veto by Governor Spencer Coxalso a Republican.
Utah State Judge Keith Kelly said in the ruling suspending the ban that lawyers representing the families of three transgender student athletes showed they suffered a great deal from “picking them out for unfavorable treatment as transgender girls.”
The transgender girls and their parents filed a lawsuit last May, arguing that the ban violates the Utah Constitution’s guarantees of equal rights and due process.
The ruling was exciting news for the girls and their families, said Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which has also represented same-sex couples in a landmark lawsuit against Utah for the past decade.
“The pressure, the pressure that this put on them, was so enormous,” Minter said. “It’s just a huge relief to have lifted that weight.”
sen. Stuart Adams, a Republican in the state of Utah, said in a statement Friday that the committee that will now make decisions “will protect fair and safe competition while preserving the integrity of women’s sports.”
The committee will consist of a medical records statistician, a physician with experience in “gender identity management,” a sports physiologist, a mental health professional, a collegiate athletic trainer, an athletics association representative, and a rotating member who coach or official is relevant in sport for each case.
Minter said he hopes the committee will only act as a safety net on the assumption that transgender girls can play unless there is an obvious problem of competitive fairness.
“How it’s done is very important,” Minter said.
The ruling follows a revelation this week by the Utah High School Activities Association that it was secretly investigating a female athlete — without telling her or her parents — after receiving complaints from the parents of two girls she beat in a competition in which she questioned whether the girl was transgender.
The investigation — which was roundly criticized by Cox — determined she was indeed a woman after sifting through her school records dating back to kindergarten, association spokesman David Spatafore told lawmakers this week.
Critics of the ban were angry but said they were not surprised by the investigation. They said it highlighted how the impact of politicking girls’ sports affected more than transgender student athletes and subjected all girls to scrutiny in a way they expected.
“It creates such a negative atmosphere based on stereotypes about girls and what they should look like,” Minter said. “It’s really harmful to all the kids in the state.”
The sequence of events also explained how officials can handle complaints now that youth sports and the associations that control them are the subject of state laws. Spatafore said the complaint was one of the complaints the association was investigating in its efforts to comply with the Utah law, which went into effect in July.