Opinion: Utah’s transgender athlete bill does not live up to the ‘Utah way’
The bill was passed with no public comment and despite compromise efforts that were underway. It is designed to fail, after which a more rational process would ensue
The issue of transgender athletes competing in sports is a difficult one because of its potential impact on women’s sports.
However, the issue of whether to throw out HB11, the ill-conceived bill Utah lawmakers passed in the closing hours of the 2022 legislative session, is not.
HB11 could be a poster child for bad legislation.
The bill, which imposes outright bans on female transgender athletes, is nothing more than an effort to follow a nationwide conservative trend. It is a box to be checked, with an eye toward elections, and remarkably, it is designed to fail.
Lawmakers, including Senate President Stuart Adams, say it likely will be thrown out by the courts, at which point the bill would trigger the creation of a “school activity eligibility commission.” That commission would establish rules and have the authority to allow transgender athletes to compete.
The bill’s co-sponsor, Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, told the Deseret News this would bring the issue “back to a rational basis rather than just an outright ban.”
So, why pass the bill, then? In what sense should a bill that is designed to fail ever be considered good public policy? Why not instead just create the commission, which itself is difficult to create without the careful guidance of counselors and those helping vulnerable people and families.
The answer is clear: HB11 scores political points without consideration for the consequences to transgender students, or to the costs of waging an expensive taxpayer-funded lawsuit.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox was right to veto HB11. Unfortunately, legislative leaders have called for a veto override session this Friday. The bill did not pass the Legislature with a veto-proof two-thirds majority. However, legislative leaders believe enough votes will change on Friday to make HB11 a law.
We urge those considering changing their votes to think carefully about what they are doing. We urge compromise, with input from those who have worked for more than a year to support both young women and transgender athletes. Think about the lives, and think about, as Cox noted in a five page letter to lawmakers Tuesday, the fact that only one transgender girl is playing girls sports in Utah high schools, while only three other transgender students are playing boys sports.
Think carefully about what constitutes good governance in a republic. In Utah, bills are normally vetted in committee hearings, in which the general public is allowed to testify and lawmakers frequently propose amendments based on feedback. HB11 sailed through on the last day of the session with absolutely no hearing or public comment.
Is that a recipe for good governance? Is that in keeping with the spirit of the vaunted “Utah way” that has led to groundbreaking compromises over issues such as immigration and the intersection of religious liberty and LGBTQ rights?
As the governor notes, a compromise solution was in process, involving LGBTQ representatives, during the legislative session. That fell apart in favor of HB11.
Now, lawmakers are talking about appropriating money to help Utah school districts and the Utah High School Activities Association fight lawsuits that may ensue. No matter how they nuance it, this would be taxpayer money that could be saved without HB11.
The issue of transgender athletes presents legitimate, difficult questions about fairness and inclusion best resolved away from the political spotlight of Capitol Hill and with the “rational basis” Bramble referenced. No matter how people feel about the issue at hand, HB11 cannot be argued as a way to solve a complicated issue in the best interests of the state.
Cox spoke for many as he said in a tweet that he doesn’t understand all aspects of transgenderism. But he prefers to err on the side of “kindness, mercy and compassion.”
Those are fundamental considerations that have driven the “Utah way” in years past. They are characteristics that ought to define Utah and its approach to difficult subjects.