SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Transgender girls in Utah will have a chance to participate in girls’ sports as the school year begins, after a judge on Friday overturned 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. Utah Republican lawmakers created the commission in a law passed earlier this year as a backup plan to be implemented in the event of a mandate against the law.
Under the law, the court will be able to ask for and assess the child’s height and weight to make decisions about whether a transgender girl would have an unfair advantage.
The commission, which will be convened in the coming weeks, will include politically appointed experts in athletics and medicine.
When it was proposed, the commission was criticized by advocates for transgender student-athletes, who worried they would feel targeted by measuring their bodies, and advocates 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. The members have not yet been named, but will be 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 its leagues last year, and with school sports now underway, it’s unclear how many will come forward. commission nor when its decisions will enter into force.
The Utah ruling marked the latest judicial 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 argue the rules aren’t just about sports, but another way to degrade and attack transgender youth. Similar cases are pending in states like 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 ruling suspending the ban that attorneys representing the families of three transgender student-athletes showed they had suffered significant distress by “selecting for unfavorable treatment as transgender girls.”
The transgender girls and their parents filed the lawsuit last May, claiming the ban violates the Utah Constitution’s guarantees of equal rights and due process.
The ruling was exciting news for the girls and their families, said Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which also represented same-sex couples in a landmark court case against Utah in the decade past
“The pressure, the strain they were under was so enormous,” Minter said. “It’s such a relief to have that weight lifted.”
Utah state Sen. Stuart Adams, a Republican, said in a statement Friday that the commission will now make decisions “to protect fair and safe competition while preserving the integrity of women’s sports.”
The commission will include a medical data statistician, a physician with expertise in “gender identity health care,” a sports physiologist, a mental health professional, a registered athletic trainer, a sports association representative, and a rotating member who is a coach or sports official. relevant for each case.
Minter said she hopes the commission will act only as a safety net, with the presumption that transgender girls can play unless there is an obvious issue of competitive fairness.
“How it’s done is very important,” Minter said.
The ruling 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 parents of two girls he had defeated in the competition who questioned whether the girl was transgender.
The investigation, which was widely criticized by Cox, determined she was indeed a woman 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 impact of the politicization of girls’ sports affected more than transgender student-athletes and subjected all girls to scrutiny in ways they anticipated.
“It creates such a negative atmosphere based on stereotypes about girls and how they should be,” Minter said. “It’s really harmful to every child in the state.”
The sequence of events also laid out how officials can file complaints now that youth sports and the associations that govern them are subject to state laws. Spatafore said the complaint was one of several the association had looked into in its efforts to comply with Utah’s law, which took effect in July.
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