The ACLU of Utah and other advocacy groups filed a lawsuit on behalf of two families Tuesday against the bill passed by the Utah Legislature this year that bans transgender girls from playing in high school girls sports.

The lawsuit includes two transgender girls who attend public schools — a 16-year-old who wants to play volleyball and a 13-year-old swimmer. The families are filing the lawsuit anonymously "to protect their children," the ACLU, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati said in a statement.

In March, the Republican-controlled Utah Legislature voted to override Gov. Spencer Cox's veto of HB11, allowing it to take effect this spring. Legislative leaders said at that time they expect to face lawsuits in response — but a mechanism is in place if the law gets stayed by the courts.

If the ban is struck down, HB11 is structured to activate a commission to decide if each transgender child can compete.

"The lawsuit filed today is not surprising, as such actions have been threatened since the beginning. My goal has always been to protect girls sports and female athletes across the state and I hope the courts will recognize that and uphold the legislation," bill sponsor Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, said in a statement Tuesday.

After the Legislature overturned Cox's veto, the ACLU promised swift court action. The ACLU described the students in the lawsuit as sports lovers "who want to participate in sports with other girls."

"If HB11 is allowed to go into effect, these children will be barred from playing the sports they love," ACLU leaders said.

One of the girls, given the alias Jenny Roe, said her last season playing volleyball was "one of the best times of my life."

"I loved my teammates, felt part of something bigger than myself, and finally had a way to socialize with friends after being cooped up during the pandemic," the teen said in the statement. "This law devastated me. I just want to play on a team like any other kid."

The girl's mother, given the name Debbie Roe, said the law "feels like an attack on our family."

"Parents want their kids to be happy and to be surrounded by people who love and nurture them. This law does the opposite — it tells my daughter that she doesn't belong and that she is unworthy of having the same opportunities as other students at her school," the mother said.

"The law ... singles out transgender girls in order to exclude them from girls' sports. It bars every transgender girl from competing on a girls' team regardless of her medical care or individual circumstances," the ACLU said in the statement.

Justice Christine Durham, former chief justice of the Utah Supreme Court and senior of counsel at Wilson Sonsini, said in the statement that the law "cannot survive constitutional scrutiny and it endangers transgender children."

The contentious bill originally passed during the final hours of the 2022 general session after Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, proposed the all-out ban. The original version of the bill proposed by Birkeland sought to create a commission to decide if each child can play — a proposal that will still take effect if the ban gets halted.

Those who support the bill say they want to protect fairness in girls sports, while critics of the bill say it will alienate children who are already struggling.

"HB11 is trying to protect two things: safety and the integrity of competition," McCay said in a statement Tuesday. "It is our responsibility as lawmakers to pass legislation that ensures women still have a place in their sport. HB11 does just that. At times, litigation is part of the process, and we will work within the legal system to get answers."

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McKay mentioned the commission that will be established if the ban is put on hold, as did Sen. Curt Bramble in his own statement, saying HB11 "puts Utah ahead of the curve by creating an unbiased, data-driven commission, continuing to protect female athletes."

"All kids deserve fair opportunities," Bramble said, "however, we must acknowledge the fact that biological boys and girls are built differently. HB11 doesn't prevent athletes from competing as they can still compete against their same biological gender. The intention of HB11 is to preserve women's sports and protect future athletic opportunities."

Cox's office declined to comment Tuesday evening, citing the pending litigation.

The Utah High Schools and Activities Association and school districts are protected in state law against lawsuits in response to the bill. After overriding the veto, the Legislature convened a separate special session called by the governor to make changes to HB11, during which lawmakers passed a bill to indemnify the Utah High School Activities Association and school districts against costly lawsuits.

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