A state court in Utah has blocked enforcement of a recently enacted law banning transgender girls from joining girls’ sports teams after Republican state legislators voted to override the governor’s veto of the bill earlier this year.
Third District Court Judge Keith Kelly determined that the law likely violates equal protection guarantees under the state constitution by singling out transgender girls “and categorically bars them from competing on girls’ sports teams”.
“At the same time, other girls are free to compete. This is plainly unfavorable treatment,” he wrote in a 16-page ruling on 19 August granting a preliminary injunction that freezes enforcement of the law.
Following a two-day hearing, the court concluded that the state has no “persuasive reasons to categorically ban all transgender girls from competing on girls’ teams” as the 2022-2023 school year begins.
The ruling marks a significant victory for transgender athletes and their families in the state. Three transgender girls and their families filed a lawsuit challenging the law in May, arguing that the law undermines equal rights and due process protections.
One plaintiff, Debbie Roe, a parent to a transgender student athlete in the state, said she is “relieved” by the court’s decision.
“We are grateful the court understood how much harm this law has caused, which has been a huge source of stress and trauma for our child,” she said in a statemeent on Friday. “Our daughter just wants the same chance as other kids to make friends and play on the team she loves. Today’s ruling gives her the opportunity to do that.”
The three transgender girls in the case, all under pseudonyms to protect their privacy as minors, include 16-year-old Jenny Roe, who participated in girls volleyball last school year and wants to play again. She also wants to try out for her school’s basketball team.
Fourteen-year-old Jill Poe intends to try out for girls cross-country and track teams this school year, and 13-year-old Jane Noe, an eighth grader this school year, plans to join her school’s swim team when she enters high school.
“This is a win not only for my child but for all girls in this state,” said Jean Noe, the mother of Jane Noe. “This law is based on stereotypes and misconceptions that are harmful to all girls. I am grateful the court has put this dangerous law on pause and that, at least for the moment, all Utah children can know that they are valued and supported.”
The ruling also follows reporting this week that the Utah High School Activities Association secretly investigated whether one student athlete – without telling her or her parents – was transgender, after complaints were filed by parents of girls who finished second and third in a state competition.
David Spatafore of the Utah High School Activities Association told Deseret News that he had no choice but to investigate after the complaint was filed.
His office received one complaint that the girl “doesn’t look feminine enough.”
Without the law in place, the state has established another process to determine whether transgender athletes can compete in sports that match their gender.
A commission made up of political appointees will determine eligiblity on a case-by-case basis, including evaluations of an athlete’s weight, height and whether they are undergoing gender-affirming healthcare.
The commission will include a handful of athletic trainers and physicians, including a physician with “expertise in the analysis of medical data” and another working in gender-affirming healthcare.
In March, the state’s Republican-dominated state legislature voted to override Governor Spencer Cox’s veto of House Bill 11 despite the governor’s powerful veto letter urging “kindness, mercy and compassion”.
Governor Cox explained to the state’s legislative leadership that only four transgender students were participating in high school sports in the state, and only one transgender student participates in girl’s sports.
“Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few,” he wrote. “I don’t understand what they are going through or why they feel the way they do. But I want them to live. And all the research shows that even a little acceptance and connection can reduce suicidality significantly.”
At least a dozen states have moved to ban transgender athletes from sports, as Republican legislators and powerful conservative Christian groups promoted a wave of legislation targeting LGBT+ young people within the last year, with a majority of those bills aimed at transgender youth.