Legislators override governor’s veto on HB11

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LGBTQ flags are waved at the Utah State Capitol Thursday evening in a rally to show support for transgender youth and the vetoing of HB11. The House and Senate voted to override Gov. Spencer Cox’s veto Friday afternoon, passing a bill that prohibits “a student of the male sex from competing against another school on a team designated for female students” in middle and high school sports. (Kelsey Nield)

State legislators in the House and Senate passed a bill prohibiting transgender youth in Utah from competing in middle and high school girls’ sports.

Legislators voted to override Gov. Spencer Cox’s veto on HB11 in a special session Friday. Cox vetoed HB11 in a March 22 letter saying he was pleased with the direction of the initial bill allowing most trans youth to participate but no longer supports it after last-minute changes were made.

House representatives debated the bill on the House floor before passing it with 56-18. The Senate then passed it as well with 21-8.

Bill sponsor Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, defended the bill’s process, saying there were five committee hearings, four house debates and almost two years of open meetings involved in the formation of the bill. 

“The biggest thing we continually came back to is what can we do that’s fair to the women of our state and the transgender kids of our state?” Birkeland said in the legislative session.

She emphasized that the Legislature can provide more opportunities for trans youth in sports in the future, saying, “I truly believe that what we have before us is a bill that says, ‘We will preserve and protect the integrity of women’s sports, and we will work as a group and work as a state to bring new, better opportunities to transgender youth.’”

Birkeland said the bill will still allow transgender youth to compete in coed sports and to participate, but not compete in gendered sports. She emphasized her support of Title IX, passed 50 years ago this June, giving women an equal opportunity in sports. 

“When we don’t act and we just go with the status quo, we do more harm to both transgender youth and our women athletes,” Birkeland said on the House floor Friday. “When we say that this isn’t a problem, the message we send to those girls is ‘Sit down, be quiet and make nice’ and I don’t think we should do that any longer.”

Other legislators who debated in the special session included Rep. Carol Moss, D-Salt Lake City, who voted against overriding the veto. Moss said national controversy over the Penn State transgender swimmer Lia Thomas winning the 2022 NCAA Championship focuses “incorrect attention” on the wrong side of the issue. Moss asked representatives to “slow down” the bill’s process so they could find a solution that wouldn’t harm “kids who already feel marginalized.”

Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, voted for overriding the veto, saying there are ways to support trans youth that don’t involve “jeopardizing” women’s sports.

“Do we want to wait until something like the Penn State swimmer situation happens in Utah? I don’t think that’s good policy. Is it fair to the girl who has devoted her whole life to a sport to have a state championship or scholarship opportunity stripped away from her?” he said.

The original bill would have allowed trans youth to compete in sports in all cases except for rare outliers who would “pose a safety threat or dominate a sport in a way that would eliminate competitive opportunities for biological females,” Cox said in the letter. 

He said he supported this direction because it created a path forward, even if neither side was completely satisfied. The issue he presented was when the bill was changed to an all-out ban on transgender athletes late on the last day of the legislative session, then debated and passed just before midnight without public input or options for revisions.

Gay and transgender flags are waved at the Utah State Capitol Thursday evening in a rally to show support for transgender youth and the vetoing of HB11. The House and Senate voted to override Gov. Spencer Cox’s veto Friday afternoon, passing a bill that keeps trans youth from competing in middle and high school girls’ sports. (Kelsey Nield)
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