Utah school investigates whether athlete is transgender after state championship win

High school athletes hoist a UHSAA trophy in 2020. In the Utah Legislature’s Education Interim Committee on Wednesday, it was revealed that the UHSAA asked a student athlete’s school to investigate after parents called into question the gender of the winning competitor.

High school athletes hoist a UHSAA trophy in 2020. In the Utah Legislature’s Education Interim Committee on Wednesday, it was revealed that the UHSAA asked a student athlete’s school to investigate after parents called into question the gender of the winning competitor. (Yukai Peng, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — After one competitor "outclassed" the rest of the field in a girls' state-level competition last year, the parents of the competitors who placed second and third lodged a complaint with the Utah High School Activities Association calling into question the winner's gender.

David Spatafore, the UHSAA's legislative representative, addressing the Utah Legislature's Education Interim Committee on Wednesday, said the association — without informing the student or family members about the inquiry — asked the student's school to investigate.

The school examined the student's enrollment records.

"The school went back to kindergarten and she'd always been a female," he said.

To protect the student's identity, Spatafore said he would not reveal the sport, the classification of play nor the school the student attended.

He told committee members about the events in response to their questions of whether the UHSAA, which sanctions and oversees high school activities, receives such complaints and how they are handled.

Spatafore said the association has received other complaints; some that said "that female athlete doesn't look feminine enough."

The association took "every one of those complaints seriously. We followed up on all of those complaints with the school and the school system," he said during an update on HB11, a ban on transgender girls from participating in female school sports, which was passed during the final hours of 2022 general session.


Quite frankly, this is new ground for us. I'm not going to say that we have it down pat, because I have no clue. I don't think any of us in the office have a clue if we have it down pat. What we want to do is we just want to try to do our job.

–David Spatofore, legislative representative of UHSAA


"We didn't get to the parents or the student simply because if all of the questions about eligibility were answered by the school or the feeder system schools, there was no reason to make it a personal situation with a family or that athlete."

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, bans transgender girls from competing in girls sports. In the event of a lawsuit, however, the bill defaults to a commission that would evaluate transgender students' eligibility to play.

In late May, ACLU of Utah and other advocacy groups filed a lawsuit on behalf of two transgender girls who attend public schools challenging the Utah law, alleging it is discriminatory and unconstitutional.

As a 3rd District Court judge weighs whether to issue an injunction that would temporarily halt enforcement of the law, USHAA is striving to follow HB11 best it can, Spatafore said.

"Quite frankly, this is new ground for us. I'm not going to say that we have it down pat, because I have no clue. I don't think any of us in the office have a clue if we have it down pat. What we want to do is we just want to try to do our job," he said.

Birkeland said HB11 has been Utah law since July and she asked if the UHSAA's online registration process could simply state the law.

"Despite the fact that somebody may be suing, a judge might be ruling on something, it is law," she said.

Birkeland said passing a law takes a lot of time and work.

"I spent two years working on this legislation and then to hear that 'well, a judge might enjoin it,' it kind of undermines our process of trying to create legislation and laws to properly govern the people that have elected us. So, I would ask, and this is just me asking, that whenever possible, state law is at least informed to the people that will be using the system," Birkeland said.

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