SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah lawmaker behind a controversial bill to ban transgender girls from playing girls' sports in Utah plans to run it again next session.
Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, said she doesn't take the decision to run the bill, titled Preserving Women's Sports, lightly.
"I don't just think, 'Oh I can't wait to be called a bigot today, I'm gonna run this bill.' But I feel like it's the right thing to do to address this now," Birkeland said.
Transgender sports bill back in Utah
Advocates argue no transgender students currently compete in Utah school sports. But Birkeland maintains some transgender girls do practice and play sports now in the state. She says she wants to create policy around the issue before it becomes a problem in Utah.
"By sitting and doing nothing we're waiting until we have lawsuits, and that's not good policy to me," Birkeland said.
She also said she received "an onslaught" of calls from cis-gendered girl athletes who urged her to keep trying. According to Birkeland, those girls say sports help them find purpose.
"These are not discriminatory, bigoted young ladies that reached out to me, they're girls who just felt like in our society they have one role — to get married and have children. But when they're playing sports they have a purpose. And when they have to compete against someone who was born a male — and that is happening in our state — they once again feel like their role is always secondary," she said.
Public hearing coming in June
The Health and Human Services Interim Committee will hold a public hearing on this bill next month.
Birkeland says she wants to have conversations with transgendered athletes.
"I find it disingenuous that everybody keeps saying that this bill attacks and moralizes transgendered kids when that's not at all what I've ever done. The only people who have been out there saying it's discriminatory and hateful are the people who supposedly want to protect these kids," Birkeland said.
Birkeland says every kid, no matter how they identify, deserves to have their voice heard.
The original bill died in a Senate committee in the final weeks of the 2021 session. Gov. Spencer Cox got emotional at a news conference earlier in the year when he voiced his opposition to that original bill, saying transgendered youth "are just trying to stay alive."
Reaction to bill's re-emergence
The Transgender Education Advocates of Utah spoke out Tuesday. In a statement, they said current policy for high school athletes in Utah already covers transgender sports participation.
"We look forward to all conversations about how to support transgender youth in Utah schools," said Becca Greene with TEA Utah. "It's important to remember the UHSAA has an existing policy for trans athletes, and we are not aware of any trans youth participating in high school sports in our state. We question the need for a debate that further endangers vulnerable youth when a policy already exists."
The Utah Pride Center suggested in a statement that Birkeland's bill solves a problem that does not exist.
"We express our disappointment that this bill will return for the 2022 Utah Legislature. It is our belief that this bill is driven by fear of a problem that doesn't exist. The impact this bill has brought to the transgender community, specifically youth, will have lasting effects for years to come. We, at the Utah Pride Center, see the day-to-day harm that is caused by the debate and erasure of the trans community. We urge all state representatives to take the time to get to know members of the trans community before allowing this bill to return in the fall. We believe that by doing so, the Legislature and governor will gain the empathy needed to do away with this bill again. All children and teens, including transgender youth, deserve to play sports in Utah."