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54% of Utahns back ban on transgender girls competing in female school sports

Lawmakers said they voted for the ban to protect girls. Less than half of women polled said they support the legislation

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East High School students protest the passage of HB11, which bans transgender girls from participating in female school sports.

East High School students protest the Utah Legislature’s passage of HB11, which bans transgender girls from participating in female school sports, at the school in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 15, 2022.

Mengshin Lin, Deseret News

More than half of Utahns support a new law passed by the Utah Legislature that prohibits transgender girls from competing in female school sports, according to a new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll.

The poll of 804 registered voters was conducted April 5-12, which was after the recent special session convened by lawmakers on March 25 to override Utah Gov. Spencer Cox’s veto of HB11, which bans transgender girls from competing in girls high school sports.

Forty-four percent said they strongly support the law, while 10% said they somewhat support it. Conversely, 9% said they somewhat oppose HB11 while 30% said they strongly oppose it. Seven percent responded “don’t know.” The poll has a plus or minus 3.46% margin of error.

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The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, said during committee and floor debate that she sponsored HB11 to preserve the integrity of girls athletics. Some lawmakers said they supported the final version of the legislation to protect their daughters.

“Standing up for Utah’s female athletes has always been my goal, and I am encouraged that a majority of Utahns feel similarly,” Birkeland said in a statement responding to the poll results.

The results revealed that more than half of the men polled — 51% — strongly supported the legislation, compared to 37% of women. Sixty-one percent of men either strongly or somewhat supported the law while 47% of women were in support. Nearly as many women — 46% — said they somewhat or strongly opposed HB11.

Amanda Darrow, director of youth, family and education at the Utah Pride Center, said the poll results show less than half of the women surveyed support the ban on transgender girls competing in high school girls sports.

“With only 37% strongly supporting the ban, it is clear that this is not in the best interest of women. I feel that as women we want all girls to play and compete in sports. This includes our transgender girls,” she said.

Lawmakers’ passage of HB11 sent a “heartbreaking” message sent to Utah’s transgender community, she said.

“It told our transgender girls that they do not belong in sports. It told them that they are not enough. This is something all girls can relate with. Whether it be a transgender girl or a cisgender girl. We have all been shown that we are less than in some capacity to men. This is another way that men are controlling the narrative around women. Now they are deciding who is girl enough. What is next for our girls?” Darrow said.

The poll results reflected more support for the law among older adults than youth, with just over one-third of people ages 18-40 in strong support. That’s compared to 57% of ages 41-56 who said they strongly support the ban.

The highest levels of strong support were among people who identify as “very active” members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at 59% and those “very conservative” at 76%. Conversely, among those who identified as “very liberal,” 83% were strongly opposed.

People with higher levels of education were less supportive than people with less attainment, although all were in the 40% range — college graduates and those with graduate education indicating 41% in support with high school graduates and some college at 47%.

The greatest disparity among subgroups was between political parties, with 60% of Democrats strongly opposed and 57% of Republicans in strong support.

HB11 passed in the final hours of the Utah Legislature’s general session. After introducing similar legislation in 2021, which passed the Utah House of Representative but stalled in the Utah Senate, Birkeland brought the legislation to an interim committee for a public hearing in 2021.

She introduced HB11 during the 2022 session, which called for the creation of a commission to address issues surrounding transgender students participation in athletics. The bill passed in the House on a 52-16 vote and was narrowly approved by the Senate Business and Labor Committee.

On the final night of the legislative session, a substituted version of the bill that would ban transgender girls from competing in high school sports was unveiled in the Utah Senate, which took Democratic lawmakers and the governor by surprise.

Cox announced prior to the bill’s final votes that he would veto it. It passed both legislative bodies.

As promised, Cox vetoed HB11, but the Legislature called itself into session to override his veto.

In a letter explaining his decision to veto the bill, Cox noted that 75,000 youths participate in high school sports in Utah, among them four transgender students and one transgender student who plays girls sports.

Cox’s letter noted that transgender youths have a substantially higher rates of suicide ideation and attempts.

On March 25, lawmakers met in special session. The Utah Senate voted 21-8 and the House of Representatives voted 56-18 to override the governor’s veto of HB11, which is scheduled to go into effect on July 1.

Following the special session, Utah Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said lawmakers expect litigation, which is why they passed legislation to indemnify enforcement of the ban.

The Utah Legislature’s actions caused Darrow to wonder, “When will we lead with love and compassion and tell our fellow humans that they are enough, they are loved, and that they belong? When will we lift the voices of many and not just some?

“If only 37% of women strongly support this ban and want to exclude our girls from Utah sports, when will the rest of us stand up for inclusion? Transgender girls are girls and they belong in all spaces, especially in Utah sports.”