SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Transgender girls in Utah will be allowed to participate in girls’ sports at the start of the school year after a judge on Friday lifted a ban pending legal challenges from parents.
Instead of an outright ban, transgender girls will now be referred to a commission that will determine on a case-by-case basis whether their participation compromises justice. Republican Utah lawmakers created the commission in a law passed earlier this year as a fallback plan to implement in the event of an injunction against the law.
Under the law, the panel will be allowed to look for and assess the child’s height and weight in making decisions about whether a transgender girl would have an unfair advantage.
The commission, which is expected to meet in the coming weeks, will include politically appointed experts from athletics and medicine.
When it was proposed, the commission was criticized by advocates for transgender student-athletes — who worried they would feel targeted by having their bodies measured — and by proponents of an outright ban, who argued it didn’t go far enough. .
The commission will take effect while the court weighs the legal challenge to the outright ban. Members have not yet been appointed but will be appointed in the coming weeks, legislative leaders said.
The state association that oversees more than 80,000 students who play high school sports has said only one transgender girl competed in their leagues last year and, with school sports already in development, it’s unclear how many will go forward the commission and when its decisions will enter into force.
The Utah decision marked the court’s latest development in a nationwide debate over how to navigate the flashpoint issue.
At least 12 Republican-led states — including Utah — have passed laws banning transgender women or girls from sports based on the premise that it gives them an unfair competitive advantage.
Transgender rights advocates oppose the rules as not just about sports, but another way to humiliate and attack transgender youth. Similar cases are underway in states such as Idaho, West Virginia and Indiana.
Utah’s ban took effect in July after its Republican-dominated legislature overrode a veto by Gov. Spencer Cox, also a Republican.
Utah State Judge Keith Kelly said in the decision to suspend the ban that attorneys representing the families of the three transgender student-athletes showed they have suffered significant distress by being “singled out for unfavorable treatment as transgender girls.”
Transgender girls and parents filed suit last May, claiming the ban violates the Utah Constitution’s guarantees of equal rights and due process.
The decision was exciting news for the girls and their families, said Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which also represented same-sex couples in a landmark court case against Utah last decade.
“The pressure, the strain it was putting on them was so great,” Minter said. “It’s just a huge relief to have lifted that weight.”
Utah state Sen. Stuart Adams, a Republican, said in a statement Friday that the commission will now make decisions in a way “to protect fair and safe competition while preserving the integrity of women’s sports.”
The committee will include a medical records statistician, a physician experienced in “gender identity health care,” a sports physiologist, mental health professional, collegiate athletic trainer, representative of an athletic association, and a rotating member who is a coach or official in sports. relevant to each case.
Minter said he hopes the commission will simply act as a safety net, assuming transgender girls can play unless there is a clear issue of competitive fairness.
“How it’s done is very important,” Minter said.
The decision follows a revelation this week by the Utah High School Activities Association that it secretly investigated a female athlete — without telling her or her parents — after receiving complaints from the parents of two girls she beat in competition. asked if the girl was transgender.
The investigation — which was sharply criticized by Cox — determined she was indeed female after examining her school records dating back to kindergarten, association spokesman David Spatafore told lawmakers this week.
Critics of the ban were upset but said they were not surprised by the investigation. They said it highlighted how the politicization of girls’ sports affected more than transgender student-athletes and subjected all girls to scrutiny in ways they envisioned.
“It creates such a negative atmosphere based on stereotypes about girls and how they should look,” Minter said. “It’s really harmful to all the children in the state.”
The sequence of events also determined how officials can pursue complaints now that youth sports and the associations that run them are subject to state laws. Spatafore said the complaint was among several the association had reviewed in its efforts to comply with Utah’s law, which took effect in July.
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