Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — When 16-year-old "Jenny Roe" began playing volleyball on her high school team last year, she said she went from being isolated, without much of a social life, to making close friends with whom she could be "goofy."
"The team always ate dinner together the nights before games, which I also loved. Sometimes we would go to a teammate's house and sometimes we would eat at the school. During the season, I got much better grades in my classes and I felt happy about going to school," the teen said.
Those are the words of one transgender student in the Granite School District who shares her story, under the alias Jenny Roe, in a declaration filed in Utah's 3rd District Court with a complaint seeking a halt on Utah's new law that would ban transgender girls from participating on girls' teams.
The lawsuit also includes a 13-year-old girl, named in the lawsuit as Jane Noe, who also attends a Granite School District school, and a 14-year-old girl referred to as Jill Poe, who attends school in the Jordan School District.
Attorneys for the girls with Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich and Rosati, and the ACLU of Utah, say the ban is based on "unfounded stereotypes" and fears that are unsupported by scientific evidence. The attorneys call the law "so broad and unqualified" and say it causes severe damage, according to the complaint.
The girls and their families are suing the Utah High School Activities Association, Granite School District and Jordan School District.
The Utah Legislature this year passed HB11, a contentious bill that originally sought to create a commission to decide whether each transgender student can compete on their school's team. But in the final hours of the legislative session, Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, proposed to change the bill to an all-out ban on transgender girls from competing. During a heated debate, supporters of the bill said they want to preserve fairness for girls in sports and pointed to transgender swimmer Lia Thomas, who they noted began dominating in her sport after moving from competing against men to women.
The bill passed, was vetoed by Gov. Spencer Cox who decried the process it went through, and then the Legislature overturned Cox's veto and restored the bill. The Legislature also passed a bill that protects the Utah High School Activities Association from lawsuits as it enforces the ban.
Jane Noe said in court documents that she has "known she was a girl" since she was 3 years old. She said she told teachers at school starting in third grade and "since that time, I have been treated as a girl at school and everywhere else."
Jane said she started taking puberty blockers at age 12 and will begin hormone treatment "when my doctors say I can do that, too."
"The law that Utah passed about transgender girls playing sports really scares me," she said. "It hurts to know that some people think I do not belong on my team or with my teammates. It feels like they wish I did not even exist. If I cannot be on the girls' swim team in high school, I am not sure I will go to school at all." She indicated that she would consider home school.
In her declaration, Jenny Roe says that after a few volleyball games, her parents were asked to provide information about her so she could keep playing on the team.
"I learned about this on a day when I was traveling with the team to a volleyball match at another school. I was so upset that I might not be able to keep playing with my team that I could not stop crying during the entire bus ride," she said.
She said her teammates comforted her "the entire time." She was able to finish the season, but after that she says she missed her teammates and the games, and she found it "hard to keep doing well" in school.
Jenny said that although she has a lot of support, she's been teased in school. She said she knew she was transgender at age 11, and began taking puberty-blocking medication at age 13. She plans to receive hormone medication soon, according to the declaration.
"Even though I have a lot of support, I have also experienced being teased and harassed for being transgender, and I know that some people do not accept me. Sometimes I worry about my future and about whether I can overcome other people's fears and misconceptions about me because I am transgender," Jenny wrote.
Tryouts for next season's team begin in July, she said, and she will be "devastated" if she can't compete "like everyone else." She said her school does not have a boys' volleyball team "but even if it did, I would never play on it," adding that it would be "embarrassing" and that she misses her teammates from last year.
Likewise, 14-year-old Jill Poe said that she won't participate in cross-country — the sport she wants to play — if she can't run during track meets.
"It would be embarrassing to put in all the work with my team only to be told that I cannot be with them when it matters the most. That is not being part of a team. It is more like being a cheerleader or a water girl," Jill wrote in her declaration.
Jenny said she is also afraid that people in Utah "will think it is OK to target transgender people because of the law." she said she knows "how it feels to be hated for who you are" and once received a death threat due to being transgender.
The girls' attorneys state that they will each suffer irreparable harm should the bill take effect.
Attorneys also contend the law could lead to intrusion and breach of students' privacy.
"The ban includes no mechanism for how the discriminatory policy will be monitored or enforced and no mechanism that would protect athletes from unwarranted intrusion into their bodies or disclosure of private medical information. Nor does the ban protect against school officials disclosing students' private medical information to others," attorneys said in the complaint.